Archive for December 2010
We Act Out What We Cannot Say
There are moments when we are open to listening. These moments may indicate we are open to change as well. People have been telling me their stories about conversations that changed their lives. Sometimes an inconsequential conversation at an inconsequential time can make all the difference in the world.
Louise Bell tells of a moment, not exactly a conversation but an image, that changed her life. Years ago her African-American grandparents had been murdered in the most gruesome way over an act of mercy on their part. Justice had not been accomplished in their murder and the wound was deep. It was when Louise mother died, after moving back to the south with an interest in reconciliation, that this moment occurred.
Listen to the December 30 edition of The Story over at American Public Media. It’s in the second half of the show.
Over at the Philosopher’s Playground, Steven Gimbel wrote recently of his need to discombobulate his students (with their “naively smug beliefs which they’ve never thought very hard about.”) to help them begin the work of philosophy. I wonder if the act of getting discombobulated is the beginning point for producing any insight.
A few days back I had coffee with a friend who is a human resources executive and coach and thoughtful person. We were talking about what makes an organization dialogical, that is, willing to enter into conversation internally (versus the usual barking of orders from one management level to the next). Carol, as it turns out, had a keen interest in how dialogue works and was able to identify four stages in a verbal exchange required to produce insight:
- Awareness of a problem or issue
- Trigger: something in the exchange triggers a reflective moment. Insight often falls from the reflection
- Insight: the Aha moment, when suddenly I understand something previously opaque to me
- Action: Do something with an insight or it is gone. Write it down. Tell someone. Do anything.
Gimbel’s discombobulation seems to help with the awareness phase. We need to understand how what we thought certain or easy is neither certain nor easy. Sometimes I use a classroom exercise to help create the trigger/reflection step for my students. But just as often, in ordinary conversation, my discombobulation finds relief when my friend asks a question and I lapse into momentary reflection which often leads to an insight. Sometimes I feel like an “Aha” addict: there’s nothing like suddenly realizing a new truth—nothing like that “click” when a critical piece of how life works suddenly falls into place. That’s a big part of why I write.
Perhaps the key to those four stages is the action part. We need to do something with an insight. Right then at the very Aha moment. Otherwise it’s lost.
But corporate conversations routinely detour around discombobulation. It’s partly a time issue but mostly the politics of a department: a boss or manager or VP rarely seeks out discombobulation, especially from subordinates. The person in charge would much rather pay a high-priced ad agency or consulting group to come in and discombobulate them. I’ve been on both sides of a number of those meetings.
I’ve been trying to help my students become active discombobulaters in their workplaces: from wherever they land, my hope is they ask the impertinent questions that poke through the malarkey and point out deviation from mission.
Check out this video about social media I saw on Chris Brogan’s website. Very worthwhile.
Hearing from your non-target audience is critical to moving forward
I look forward to chatting with a friend and HR executive about how or if her organization encourages dialogue internally. It’s going to be a tricky conversation and I’m not at all sure I can verbally explain what I mean.
I’m working backward from the notion that target audiences and publics are no longer willing to suffer monologues, sermons and sales pitches from companies trying to get their dollars. As I talk with clients and friends, I realize the unwillingness to engage in dialogue with their target audiences actually comes from a deep place of control that leaders want to maintain. Dialogue looks like brazen and reckless openness that offers little or no payback: sort of a personal, self-inflicted Wikileak that will most certainly sink the ship.
In a sense they are right: telling what we know and offering it in exchange for discussion and relationship does seem like giving away the store. But it isn’t exactly that and it will become less like that over time. Dialogue today is more a recognition that the audience that once packed your lecture hall is now making its way to the stage, each with their own microphone and their own index card of questions.
The willingness to engage in dialogue is much, much more than turning on another marketing channel or sprucing up a communication strategy. It is a deep-seated willingness that runs counter to the way many of our businesses are organized.
Talking to the Other
I’ve been tracing the notion of the Other back through Derrida to Levinas and Hegel. I’m trying to understand exactly what is at stake when we open ourselves to true engagement with another person. In particular, engagement with people outside my demographic, outside my target audience, outside my belief set. What are they talking about and how have I excluded them and what have I missed through my exclusions?
I’m eager to know what a company that opens itself in this way looks like: who are they internally? How do they talk with each other in a way that allows them to be open to talking with others?
So—this conversation. Are you interested ?