When working with groups there are times I am an insider because I am a member of that group, or I am an outsider because I am brought in as a third party facilitator or mediator. There are benefits and challenges to both roles.
As an insider there is a personal investment and so there is a higher emotional charge attached to any actions, interactions or decisions made. There is an in-depth wealth of knowledge from firsthand experience that can enable us to make more informed choices and decisions. At the same time it is more challenging to practice collaborative skills of engagement, such as listening to understand and not respond or refute, empathizing with the other person and being open to other perspectives and points of view.
As an outsider who is called in to work with a group, perhaps facilitating a decision making process, there is less personal investment in what the actual decision is and more a sense of responsibility for creating the space that supports the group in getting to where they need to be. The benefit of being a third party is that we can maintain our focus on the process and not get caught up emotionally in the content. The challenge is that we do not have in-depth knowledge or expertise of the content and we may not have the awareness that the group is off track from the content of what they need to make thoughtful and realistic decisions for action.
As a facilitator I am very conscious of communication and the use of language. I pay attention to the seemingly slight nuances in what people say because every word, tone and mannerism is fateful in influencing the response, the relationship and the social world the conversation partners are co-creating. This becomes increasingly challenging when I work with interpreters because the language of the communication is not my native tongue, English. I am one step removed from being able to focus on the nuances and delayed from the immediacy of experiencing the communication.
Internally, I have had to make peace with this drawback and believe that the value I add is still felt in that I am able to support people in shifting the quality of their interactions and relationships to being more positive and constructive. If I am not able to do that because the language and cultural differences are too great, then I need to have this awareness and step aside so as not to further obstruct the communication and potential relationship building.
What is this thing we call “cosmopolitan communication?” This was one of the many points raised recently at a gathering of interculturalists aspiring to make better social worlds by facilitating cross-cultural communication. There is something sophisticated in the sound of the word “cosmopolitan” as it raises images of people communicating in ways that go beyond instrumentality. Something else is taking place here in this word that has an alluring appeal to it. Possibly because we experience our communication in less than optimal ways we seek to improve it. Even if we are in coordination with others and fostering healthy and constructive relationships, isn’t there always room for improvement?
What kind of world would we be creating if people spoke to each other in a cosmopolitan form of communication? What are some of the characteristics associated with the term and what could we expect in this type of conversation? For one, there would be mutual respect demonstrated through intent listening and caring. You would be able to feel the other person being present in the space that you and your conversation partner encompass. The non-verbal expressions and gestures would be in sync with the comments being made and appropriate to the tone and content of what you are communicating. The person’s responsiveness would encourage you to want to continue to engage as your relationship reaches new levels of coordination. And all of this would be met with reciprocity so that you, too, are present for the other person.
This really is a familiar feeling we have all experienced at least once in our lives (I am setting the bar low!). What was it that the other person was doing that made me want to open up, trust him/her and engage? What was I doing to encourage this and how did I respond so that in our turn taking we continued this pattern?
It would be really helpful if we could demystify this complex process known as communication so that if our intentions are to improve, we at least know how to take the first step. OK, your turn.
It is not often I have the opportunity to sit with groups of people who bring their own passion and talent into a shared space with the purpose of learning and collaboration to make better worlds. I am attending the SIETAR Deutschland conference in Berlin that has as its alluring title “Global Integral Competence: Brain, Culture, Mind, System.” One main focus of the conference is to gather interculturalists to ponder and commit to action on developing cosmopolitan communication so we can create a world in which cosmopolitan culture is the norm. What do we mean by cosmopolitan communication? It implies communicating in ways that honor the other party, honor yourself, and work back and forth in the tensions between the two to arrive at mutual benefits. There isn’t one formula or path to get there, but there are some common themes that facilitate the process, such as being respectful, creating a space for exploration, creating shared meaning and understanding, respectfully disagreeing.
Coordinated Management of Meaning (CMM) is one such approach as it takes a communication perspective and its concepts and tools embody these qualities. When collective groups of people communicate using cosmopolitan communication we have established cosmopolitan culture because the norm of communication is cosmopolitan. This is not to say it is a utopia because there are still communication struggles that will take place and this is not to assume we can sustain cosmopolitan communication 24/7. We have habits we carry with us into any communication in which we engage and these habits pop up and interfere with us remaining cosmopolitan.
So what can we do to increase those lengths of time and frequencies that we are communicating in this higher level approach to communication? We can continually work on ourselves to develop deeper self-awareness. One way to start is to reflect on the significant influences in your life that helped shape who you are and how you see the world. You can do this with the use of the Daisy Model from CMM. Put yourself in the center and then on the petals surrounding write the significant influences that shaped who you are today and how that affected you. A second way to sharpen your perceptions is to notice three things: What are your own styles and patterns of communication? What are the styles and patterns of communication of others with whom you communicate? What are your reaction to these different styles and patterns?
The first step is to increase awareness so let’s work on that for a while. We can figure out what to do about it once we are more aware. After all, this is lifework so plenty of time.
I love flying and going places. It is so much more civilized to be able to relax in a business lounge before departing. However, since I will not be flying business class I must admit that I feel like somewhat of an imposter. Business lounge implies people flying for business or wanting the comforts a business class designation brings with it. So if I feel like an imposter then I wonder if there are others in here as well?
I am a people watcher. I see some people super concentrated on their computer and iPad screens. Are they working or playing games? Others are piling up on the snacks as though they were delicious and they had not eaten in days. I fill in the blanks and make up stories about the people, their relationships, who is not with them and a part of their lives. One man carrying on a conversation with who I supposed was his boss stating emphatically that he was not going to do the assignment because he was tired of cleaning up someone else’s mess. I wondered about his deep feelings of hurt and not feeling appreciated and then I wondered about the voices I was not hearing and other sides of the story.
One conversation I overheard was a man with his wife on the telephone to a caregiver. He mentioned that the person being cared for was going to suffer because today he needed to take a big pill and tomorrow’s pill will be smaller, so don’t worry. I felt concern for the caregiver and how difficult it must be caring for someone who is suffering. Then I heard the man direct the caregiver to mix the wet food with the dry food and I realized it was not a person being cared for, but a pet. I assumed a dog. I had been picturing a feeble old man and the image was so far from the reality of this conversation. If I had stopped listening sooner I may never have known it was a dog and not a person.
How often do we stop listening when there is still more to hear?
The photo on the home page was taken during a drive one recent morning in Florida. The clouds looked so fluffy, the sky was so blue and the trees were a rich, dark green. There weren’t many cars on the road and there was a gentle quiet all around. The angle of the trees along the road and the clouds up ahead made me feel I was floating toward the end of the road, no question about changing direction, and that I would be embraced by these soft clouds.
I am writing this blog because as an observer of people and their communication, what is said and not said, responded to and not, fascinate me. As an observer of others I also apply the practice to observe myself to see what I say, how I say it, what I choose not to say, what I do not say even without choice, and how we all interact and respond to one another. As a sociologist I watch dramas on TV when I travel to see how typical (are soap operas an example of what is typical?) people act with one another. I make up what I think they are saying when they speak in languages I do not understand. The patterns are usually similar if not the same.
I am also a storyteller and ever since elementary school I have been eager to share with others around me what I found amusing, disgraceful, ironic, joyful, heart wrenching and heartwarming. Days and days of silent meditation intrigue me and I am content admiring that practice from afar.
So if the spirit moves you, check in from time-to-time to dwell on my musings, but only if the spirit moves you.