Collusions can be conscious – we can choose to collude and we can KNOW we are colluding. This may be out of a sense of helplessness or because we apply a rule which goes something like this:
It may be better to collude when the damage done by breaking a collusion is greater than the benefit that might be gained from doing so.
Of course, saying “I know I am colluding” may be a reinforcement of collusion level two – fake revelation.
In many cases though, habitual collusion, or collusion over time creates a kind of “slumbering state” where people do not even know that they ARE colluding. They come to accept mediocrity as “the best there is” and may even refer to it as “excellent”.
This creates a false threshold of transformation where either no improvement can even be imagined, or where the threshold of potential change and improvement is set a long way back from where it could be if there were no collusion.
This can show how subtle and even tactical collusion-makers and keepers can be. For example, if I am colluding about poor food in a restaurant in order to avoid making a scene, I may, when asked for feedback about an obviously bad meal, simply offer a small piece of feedback about say, the overcooked broccoli and pretend that is the ONLY significant problem with the meal when, in reality, the whole meal is dreadful. When the broccoli is changed but the rest of the meal remains of poor quality, I thank the waiter for dealing with the problem and pretend that everything has been changed as far as it can be for the better. “That’s fine” I now say, and generously tip the waiter for responding to my “complaint”.
It is interesting how the word “complaint” is used widely to raise the stakes of collusion breaking. Simply giving honest feedback is called “complaining”. Complaining is a very loaded word and suggests negativity and trouble making. “You’re spoiling the evening if you complain” says one person to their partner. “Just leave it. Can’t you relax?” And so the person doesn’t complain and instead suffers poor food.
Giving feedback, naturally and accurately is NOT complaining. Only when the feedback has not been accepted or acted upon does a complaint become necessary: “I said the broccoli was cold. You have taken it away and brought it back and it is STILL cold.” – that is a complaint. When asked if all is okay with the food you reply: “Actually this broccoli is cold” is simply objective feedback and should be a cause of stress to no one. In the colluding culture that fears feedback in case it is uncomfortable, all feedback – good or bad is avoided unless it is diluted down to a safe level.
One of the best ways therefore to sensitively move towards a non-colluding culture is to work on natural feedback processes and to remove feedback from the association with complaint. Criticism in its true sense can be good or bad but tends to be associated with negative feedback. Because of this the word feedback is often used instead of “criticism”. If we must use the word feedback let it be associated with natural feedback – either good or bad.