Communication has always been a central concern of mine. From the very beginning, love meant, mostly, talking. Stories, ideas, analysis of interactions and meaning – these were what raised me, to the degree that anything did. I knew my mom loved me because she explained things, which she did far more readily than any other maternal behavior, though even in that, she was unreliable. For me, words have always been my greatest asset – often the only one.
After studying communication from one angle after another throughout my adult life – from the perspectives of the multiple layers of the psyche in Jungian analysis, to how to fit better into society (which came slow for me), to parenting, creative writing, family systems, sales & influencing people, business writing & marketing, management, leadership, academic writing and public speaking – oh, and let’s not forget over 20 years of ever-deepening and refining communication in my marriage – it seems only natural that I’d end up studying how communication patterns work in groups to either bog things down or unleash creativity – how communication either subverts or reinforces the status quo.
So, as I’ve said elsewhere, I’ve spent the past few years studying communication in groups – Bohmian Dialog, Theory U, Collective Intelligence, and so on. These theories inform much of how I see the world lately, and while I find them profoundly helpful, there are places where my experience falls outside the books. Places where I just have to take theory, try it on, experiment, survive the experiment, and then step back to evaluate. The Lunch Series is an example of that process of experimentation – a rather expanded (and unusually sexualized) version of what goes on constantly for me.
For the past few years, the core of my concern has been about how power works in group communication, about how the dominant voices at the table become dominant and stay dominant. About the myriad voices that never get to the table and about how to change the conversational dynamics of dominance. I’ve been focused on the patterns, more than the content, and the way they impact a group.
You know the old thing about how after the revolution, the revolutionaries become just like the oppressors they just ousted (like “Animal Farm” and “Lord of the Flies”), well, I think that that dynamic is built more into our communication habits than our DNA. The reason nothing changes in spite of new leadership is that it’s not the leader who creates the group’s dynamics, it’s the communication patterns that we all unconsciously participate in. The roles change, but the patterns don’t.
Anyway, this has been a fixation of mine for awhile now. While I worked in a corporate setting, power was clung to so tightly that it was really hard to impact those patterns, and I built up a lot of frustration watching those patterns destroy everyone’s efforts and good will, powerless to change anything. Now that no-one is paying to control my mouth, I’m committed to taking this opportunity to throw caution to the winds and really practice.
So, for the past two years, I’ve been intensively practicing how to show up more fully, to engage in groups differently, to be courageous, to be authentic, to contribute what only I can contribute, and to try to learn how to impact those crushing group communication patterns. And in spite of some really good theory, it’s really trial and error with me. I’m a (seriously) challenging case study. I’ve always been a bit of a loose cannon – unpredictable, at a tangent to the norm. And my experiments are just making that worse.
Anyway – I thought I’d start to break the the practices down for you and share my experiments, but in smaller, more digestible chunks than became the norm in the Lunch Series. I hope you find it interesting. And at the very least, you should find my disasters reassuring, no-one can fail at this stuff as flamboyantly as I can. . . not if you’re making the tiniest effort. And if I can survive it, you can too.