The world is a complex place, with plenty of chances for confusion in thought, communication, and decision-making. As leaders, we have a responsibility for clear thinking, clear communication, and effective decision-making. Confusion is the enemy of each of these things, and there is one common problem that can impede us in all of those pursuits – conflation. Let’s talk about what that is and how we can avoid it in our thinking and communication.
The original use of the word conflate wouldn’t have caused much confusion – it meaning was to bring together or fuse, but that was in the 17th century. But in more recent years, starting in the 1970’s a new meaning began to emerge that to conflate meant more like to equate. In other words, conflation means more like thinking about, treating and regarding two things as essentially equal. If Todd equates toads with frogs he thinks that toads and frogs are basically – or maybe exactly the same.
But what if Todd conflates toads and frogs? With the new and now more common use of the word Todd confuses them; he knows they are different but may accidently label them incorrectly if he sees them.
Unfortunately, we do this in far more than biological situations. Here are two situations I see playing out regularly, that I hope my caution will help you overcome.
Conflation of Tools and Life
To make our thinking simpler, we take complex situations and look to simplify them with models and other ways to categorize them. We then use these models to help us understand situations and make decisions. If we are not careful though, we move from use of the models to conflation of the model and real life.
Joan looks at Google maps, and it doesn’t match up with that her eyes see when she looks up from the screen. If she conflates the two, she may be confused when they don’t match. She is forgetting to view the screen as a tool, and not reality itself.
Susan uses a coaching model and forces her coaching situation into the model, conflating it with real life, rather than using it as a tool to help her succeed as a coach in that moment.
With conflation then these tools can move from being helpful to confusing, to perhaps even harmful.
Conflation of Ideas
Metaphor and similes are powerful tool for problem solving, creativity and communication, but when we move from using the two separate things to help us understand components of one or the other of the items to conflating them as the same, we can create confusion at best and deception (intended or not) at worst. When we use similes, we compare two things to create a comparison: He is as strong as an ox. A related metaphor would be: he is an ox. In this case, it would be hard to conflate the man and the ox, but when we think metaphorically, and compare ideas, they can become conflated in thought. Once we become internally confused, we are more likely to (unknowingly) miscommunicate. The worst case is for us to misguide others through our conflation of ideas – whether unintentionally or perhaps intentionally with ill-persuasive intent.
Fusing or blending things together is a powerful idea. The conflation of milk and ice cream makes a delicious milk shake. But to confuse the milk with the ice cream could be messy – just like our thought and communication might become if we aren’t careful. Inappropriate conflation can create miscommunication and lead to bad decisions. Conflated decisions about other people and their intentions or even situations facing the team can lead us to pursue ineffective decisions.
Clear thinking and communication is just one skill needed for you to lead other to and through change successfully. Would you like to better understand change for yourself, for others, and see how that understanding will help you lead more successfully? Would you like to be more intentional, skilled, and confident in leading change? If so, you can get immediate, lifetime access to our Remarkable Change Leadership: Leading Change Effectively Master Class. This solution will help you understand what it means to lead change, the factors everyone uses to consider any change, how you can create change today, and a foundation for leading other change in the future. Leading change is a foundational skill for effective leaders. Do you have it in your toolkit?