There is a very interesting philosophical lesson. The willingness of human beings to disclose thoughts and feelings in a group setting requires an acceptance of these, both by the single person and by others. The development of that acceptance comes only when one has disclosed and discovered through others disclosure, the commonality of those thoughts and feelings that seemed initially so risky. This is what I mean when I say to my friends, students and clients that if you really want to learn something profound as a product of an interaction or group dynamic you have to dare to live dangerously. Without a haring intimacy there is no shared purpose, and there is always some risk while sharing intimacy.
There is a kind of general law of group interactions: Acceptance of the self depends on acceptance of others, and acceptance of others depends on acceptance of self. Human beings need to listen in order to be able to understand.
I was named once to a very distinguished university panel. One criterion for composition of the panel was that several professions had to be represented and that they had to be willing to work quickly in order to produce a final report. To speed up this process the chairperson of the panel decided that it would be best to bypass the ritual of introduction (a necessary first step given the composition of the panel) and get quickly into substantive discussion. The difficulty was that this group was rather prestigious, and most were feeling somewhat intimidated by each other. In addition, they were feeling uncomfortable and anxious about the limits of their collective capacity to comply in such a short time with the requested report.
The group formation began with a process where each member felt that it was a little risky to open up to the group. After few minutes of reflection in the second session, the first person spoke. No one was really listening. People were totally preoccupied with what to reveal about themselves and listening to someone else was impossible. As each spoke the pressure increased to be more revealing than the previous individual. At the end those who had gone first felt they had not been sufficiently self-disclosing. At the end of the session, very little of the content shared was remembered by those in the panel. This condition happens when human beings are so invested in listening to his or her inner anxiety that others’ revelations seemed unimportant. As a consequence of not listening, very little understanding was advanced, and the tension characteristic of any first meeting was still present.
Someone suggested talking about what they had done and whether it had given them the kind of start the group needed. Everyone agreed that it had not, specially because as it became clear that each member was listening to themselves and not to anyone else. As we talked further, the recognition emerged that each of them had been so concerned about acceptance and what seemed a very difficult mandate that they had been given that it had blunted their collective capacity to listen. As the members spoke to each other about their individual difficulty in listening, everyone listened, leading to an increasing sense that people had indeed felt similar things during the introduction. By the end of this review session, the listening had enable each to recognize the collective nature of individually experienced anxiety.
This happens frequently within organizations. Through the individual speaking, and not listening, groups say something at the collective level that can be heard only through the not listening behavior occurring at the individual level. When the group level statement is heard, it becomes possible for individuals to listen to each other.
The point we have learned through previous research and direct interventions is that there is an organizational necessity for bringing to the surface the collective dimension of shared experience in order for members to be able to develop meaningful relationship which each other, which is an imperative for teaming and high performance.
Copyright 2002 QBS, Inc.