Double Loop Learning: Top Ten Conflict Tips on Why It Fails

I have always found Chris Argyris’s (1923-) concept of Double Loop Learning, or learning about how we learn or fail to learn, interesting. Wikipedia defines it as:

‘the concept of double-loop learning (DLL) in which an individual, organization or entity is able, having attempted to achieve a goal on different occasions, to modify the goal in the light of experience or possibly even reject the goal. Single Loop Learning (SLL) is the repeated attempt at the same problem, with no variation of method and without ever questioning the goal.’

To me, applied more widely to human behavior,  Single Loop Learning is about how, when we have behaved in a way that caused us pain, we persist in behaving in that way over and over again. And Double Loop Learning is what happens in for example psycho-therapy, when we are finally able to figure out what blindness, what neurosis stopped us learning from the pain we experienced, and so we are able to finally dis-continue the behavior.

And if we apply it to conflict. Why is it that thousands of years of futile wars, not to mention years of personal and business conflict in our lives, has not produced any change in how we handle conflict? We are stuck deep in failed Single Loop Learning in conflicts that isn’t working. We are not able to step outside and see how dysfunctional our conflict handling is. Why is this? Why do I think it is so prevalent in conflict?

I thought I would create one of our Top Ten Conflict Tips, in this case Top Ten Reasons our Conflict Handling is So Lacking in Double Loop Learning:

  1. First we don’t admit how dysfunctional our conflict handling is, as to do that we would have to admit we are often wrong and we are self righteous creatures who find that hard.
  2. Our conflict handling is completely unsystematic, without structured process, and so we can’t view it in a systematic way and reflect on its efficacy. Winging it is not a plan.
  3. Not reflecting on our conflict handling, makes it very hard to learn from it to do better
  4. It is always easier when we get a lousy result in conflict to demonize the opponent, or put it down to circumstances or bad luck, rather than see how much we contributed to the defeat of our goals
  5. If you don’t actually know what you did in conflict, how are you going to avoid repeating the same behavior in similar circumstances?
  6. If you don’t know what you are trying to achieve in conflict, how can you get better at it?
  7. If don’t consider the different options you have in conflict before you address it, it is hard in future to learn which options offer most promise of success
  8. If your approach to conflict is deeply un-creative, then you will not learn anything about the pay off from more creative solutions and your learning will be very limited
  9. If you do manage to make a deal to end the conflict, but you do it in a random way, rather like seeing if pasta is cooked by throwing it at the kitchen window until it sticks, it is hard to know if you achieved a good result that you would want to repeat
  10. So in sum, conflict is one of the classic Single Loop Learning processes, and using a systematic disciplined process like the Creative Conflict Model behind this blog is the first step towards Double Loop Learning.

This is Chris:

About creativeconflictwisdom

I spent 32 years in a Fortune Five company working on conflict: organizational, labor relations and senior management. I have consulted in a dozen different business sectors and the US Military. I work with a local environmental non profit. I have written a book on the neuroscience of conflict, and its implications for conflict handling called Creative Conflict Wisdom (forthcoming).
This entry was posted in Conflict FAQs, Conflict Processes, Neuro-science of conflict, Philosophy of Conflict, Top Ten Conflict Tips from Great Thinkers and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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