Ian P. McCarthy, David Hannah, Leyland F. Pitt, and Jane M. McCarthy wrote a paper titled Confronting indifference toward truth: Dealing with workplace bullshit.

« In this article, we focus on the workplace. This context is related to but different from misrepresentation phenomena in other specific professional contexts, such as leadership, journalism, and politics… By focusing on workplace bullshit, we are dealing with the situations that occur when colleagues misrepresent such things as: reasons for and consequences of an organizational change; intentions to work on or fix something; reports about work claimed to have been done; explanations and rationales for decisions and actions undertaken in the workplace; and surveys on the harmony, performance, and outputs of teams. »

« Bullshit has become so commonplace that it is suggested that business communications are dominated by truthiness (in which the validity of something is based on how it feels), post-fact language (taking a position that ignores facts), and echo chambers (where positive feedback loops create cravings for and fuel the spread of bullshit; Berthon & Pitt, 2018). Frankfurt (2009, p. 63) argued: “Bullshit is unavoidable whenever circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about.” Thus, the more often colleagues at work are asked to comment on matters about which they know little or nothing, the more bullshit there is. »

« Encourage critical thinking. What people think and state depends on how they think. Thus, it is far more dangerous to assume people know what they are talking about than it is to assume they do not and then to let them prove you wrong. To address this, organizations should encourage critical thinking, which is an approach to thinking that is reflective, sceptical, rational, open-minded, and guided by evidence. It is thinking that is not directed toward problem solving per se but rather about developing a discipline for recognizing errors, biases, and other weaknesses in one’s own thinking and that of others (Halpern, 2013). Critical thinking is the opposite of the quick, automatic, skim-based thinking that produces and spreads workplace bullshit. It is thinking that is slower, more effortful, more calculating, and more conscious. »

« Those who have the ability to stop and think analytically about the substance of statements are less receptive to bullshit, while those with lower cognitive skills and less insight are more receptive… There should be an organizational culture in which individuals are encouraged to ask what the basis of a statement is; to question the strength of that basis; and—as needed—to propose alternative statements, related evidence, and supporting tests. »

« Eliminate pointless meetings and committees… Both are inevitable and routine in organizations, as they can provide a forum for effectively sharing information, solving problems, and making decisions. However, there is an increasingly prevalent view that meetings and committees do not provide sufficient value when they involve too many or the wrong people, have no agenda, and are run inefficiently (Mroz, Allen, Verhoeven, & Shuffler, 2018)… More simply, the need for a meeting should be questioned unless an important decision needs to be made. »

« In order to cope with it in the workplace, we suggest that leaders adopt the C.R.A.P. approach. This is a simple process model for comprehending why bullshit exists, recognizing it when it is produced, knowing the options for acting against it, and then striving hard to prevent it from reoccurring.»


Some thoughts:

  • « The aphorism not to attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity is central to recognizing bullshit produced by the unknowing bullshitter.» This is known as Hanlon’s Razor.
  • « Workplace bullshit comes into existence when one or more members of an organization are intent on pursuing an underlying agenda of their own, such as protecting themselves against criticism or perceived threats, or attempting to benefit themselves in the pursuit of opportunities. » This seems to be at odds with Hanlon’s Razor.
  • « Prolific bullshitters themselves are likely to be more effective at critical thinking, which is one reason for the view that “You can’t bullshit a bullshitter.” » Really?

See also On Bullshit by Harry G. Frankfurt

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