Whether or not communication is happening in a company, ironically, seems to be a significant topic of conversation…which shows people are communicating, but something is missing. The talk is about how much is not happening, but very little is about solutions.
George Bernard Shaw said, “The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it is taking place.” I speculate he was getting at the difference between being heard and just exchanging words. Sending out an email that may or may not be read, to make carte blanche announcements – in essence, broadcast transmission – is communication. But a generative experience involves an exchange of ideas means making sure we hear and be heard.
What keeps you from hearing?
Most of us “are not actually able to listen to each other. As a result, the very attempt to improve communication leads frequently to yet more confusion, and the consequent sense of frustration inclines people ever further toward aggression and violence, rather than toward mutual understanding and trust.” (Physicist David Bohm)
There’s plenty that keeps us from creating the space to listen. It may be as simple as a lack of sleep or too much busy-ness. It may be personal prejudice or an unconscious inhibiting factor. And sometimes, it’s thinking we know better.
A presumption in the business of running a business is that one’s humanity must not get in the way of the work at hand. Unbridled places such a high value on each person becoming the best, fullest, healthiest version of who they are because we know it’s that’s the business of running a business. The next generation of successful companies will comprise humans stepping into their greatest selves.
Growing a healthy business involves looking at what holds each of us back. What keeps us from hearing what someone else is trying to communicate? Hearing well, and being heard, is a key element to creative, productive dialogue. How’s your hearing?
It takes a Beginner’s Mind to hear what’s being said.
Fostering generative dialogue also requires a beginner’s mind. There’s always something new you can learn about a person, a situation, or even yourself. A friend, on his journey to becoming a monk, spent three years as a “novice.” He even signed his letters “Novice Thaddeus.” How many of us, after doing anything for two to three years, would consider ourselves a novice?
But that much time given to practicing a beginner’s mind means you are more likely to listen to contrary ideas and to value seemingly insignificant stuff. Being open to actually hearing what someone is saying signals a willingness to engage the conversation with a beginner’s mind.
David Bohm, again, summarizes the outcome of such a posture: “But if each one of us can give full attention to what is actually “blocking” communication while he is also attending properly to the content of what is communicated, then we may be able to create something new between us…” A healthy dialogue creating something new is a worthwhile endeavor, but it requires engagement from all parties, even if staying silent feels safer.
There’s a cost to staying silent.
Silence is a form of communication, though usually, it’s the unsettling sound of the defeated, the drowning, or the too busy. There is a cost, though, to our silence. At the personal level, it’s physical, emotional, and psychological. It fosters bitterness or resentment and as Emmet Fox said, “Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” The load gets heavy, distracting, and drains your creative energy.
Silence is isolating. When we carry our silence in an unhealthy way, we walk alone. Isolation makes us less and often we are the ones responsible for our own diminishment.
Silence has financial costs, too. In a study featured in the Harvard Business Review, the estimated cost of silence was $7,500 [per incident], with 20% of the sample estimating the cost of avoiding a difficult conversation to be more than $50,000. When asked how silence damages employee engagement, subjects noted the cost in terms of relationships, deadlines, budgets, and culture.” Keeping quiet when things need to be said and heard simply has no positive, generative outcomes.
Great ideas and solutions come from healthy dialogue. It’s what makes the Unbridled focus on collaboration so generative. For both our clients and ourselves. And as for the “bottom line” at Unbridled, silence ultimately impacts our ability to be radically generous under our 20:20:60 giving model.
The work of a healthy dialogue is listening with a beginner’s mind and not keeping silent when things feel uncomfortable or difficult. We spend a significant amount of time around each other and our humanity will easily get in the way of our ideas, but a little listening and grace go a long way to fostering a generative community that feels less like work and more like a place you want to be.