Unilateral Control Model

Core Values and Assumptions Strategies Consequences
  • Achieve my goals through unilateral control
  • win, don’t lose
  • Minimize expressing negative feelings
  • Act rationally
  • I understand the situation; those who see it differently do not
  • I am right; those who disagree are wrong
  • I have pure motives; those who disagree have questionable motives
  • My feelings are justified
  • Advocate my position
  • Keep my reasoning private
  • Don’t ask others about their reasoning
  • Ease in.
  • Save face
  • Misunderstanding, conflict, and defensiveness
  • Mistrust
  • Self-fulfilling, self-sealing processes
  • Limited learning
  • Reduced effectiveness
  • Reduced quality of work life.

I understand the situation; those who see it differently do not
In other words, how you see things is how things really are.

Keep my reasoning private
The ability to implement a unilateral control strategy often depends on the ability to withhold the strategy from those on whom you are using it.

Ease in
“I think it’s important that everyone take initiative on this project” when you are thinking of two people in particular but do not want to identify them by name.

Save face
If you were to inquire into other’s reasoning, you might find out that their reasoning makes more sense than yours, or at least it takes into account somethings that your reasoning does not.  This again makes it more difficult for you to prevail.  Second, if you inquire into other’s reasoning, they will probably expect and feel free to inquire into yours.  Third, by inquiring into other’s reasoning, you fear making public what you have privately thought: that there are gaps and flaws in the other person’s reasoning. You assume this would embarrass or threaten the other person or yourself, and that this would lead to raising negative feelings, which you are trying hard to suppress.

All of these strategies are designed to unilaterally control the situation and to suppress negative feelings and defensiveness.  Ironically, by attempting to control the situation you also create the very consequences you say you are trying to avoid.

Self-fulfilling, self-sealing processes
Believing that openly sharing your reasoning with others makes them defensive, you ease in by asking others questions without explaining why you are asking them.  This reasonably leads them to be wary and cautious in their response, which you see as defensive.  In this way, you create a self-fulfilling process, generating the very consequence you set out to avoid.

Diminished Quality of Work life
It can be stressful if you cannot say what you are thinking without creating negative consequences.

Creating a Left-Hand Dilemma

Using a unilateral control approach creates an unsolvable dilemma: no matter which option you use to share or not share your thoughts and feelings, you create a problem. …  When faced with an embarrassing or threatening situation, 98% of professionals use a unilaterally controlling approach to work with others.  (Argyris and Schon, 1996)

Strategy What I say Element of Dilemma
Direct Exactly what I am thinking and feeling Others will get defensive
Self-censoring Nothing Others will not hear my views.
Indirect part of what I am thinking and feeling, but indirectly, alluding to what I do not say. Others will still get somewhat defensive and will not hear my views directly; they will have to correctly read between the lines to understand my view, and I will not be able to find out if they have interpreted my views correctly.
cf.: IP Gap

cf.: Mutual Learning Model


From p.70-79 of The Skilled Facilitator, which lists it’s source as:
Adapted from Argyris and Donald Schon, 1974, and Action Design, 1997 (Argyris, 1970, Argyris and Schon, 1974).  Roger Schwartz added the fourth


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