Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Lesson 6: Communicating to Understand

 Applying the Platinum Rule
“It is easy enough to be friendly to one's friends. But to befriend the one who regards himself as your enemy is the quintessence of true religion. The other is mere business.” Mahatma Gandhi 1869-1948

Without a doubt, clarity of your information, the clarity of your company purpose and the clarity of your personal commitment to the business and your customer are paramount in gaining success. In order to achieve this level of understanding, entrepreneurs need to exam their own set of beliefs, their life history, and where they consider themselves to be on the social and economic ladder. Within each area of your life, there are a variety of factors that have molded your perception of the world. Whether you understand them completely or not, they affect the way you will do business and how you view other people. Invariably, how people view you and your business is based on how and what you put out and how people react to your message.

A critical factor that does not get discussed often enough is the emotional, personal considerations of our individuality as we enter entrepreneurship. In marketing, most research indicates that people buy on emotion even when they think it’s on logic. But how about if we turn that around: what about the marketers themselves; especially when we are about to fulfill that role? Have we honestly discussed with ourselves, who we are and how social conditions have affected our thinking; and how that thinking frames our belief system of the world? What your emotional state of mind is right now is how you’ll start as an entrepreneur. Keeping fluid, an open mind, using your experiences and creating knowledge will always help you to improve your abilities. As you launch, you’ll want to be extra conscientious of how you view your new world.

How often have we made judgments about someone because our perceptions were marred by our own biases, our status and our self-esteem (or lack of)? How often have we been angered or annoyed by someone with a seemingly curt response only to find out that she was in a rush to get home because her children were sick without anyone caring for them? If we only knew, our reaction to her would be of compassion and not hostility. If we were to increase this idea to a global level, would we be able to achieve better cooperation across more borders? And wouldn’t it be easier to conduct business in a more harmonious world than one in which the United States is mistrusted?

Listening for Understanding
The idea of the Platinum Rule is critical for business success. The idea that we can achieve even greater success by our compassion for total strangers and even our enemies requires a conscious consideration beyond our existing standards of living. While Lesson #6 discusses our relationship to others, it is all about effective communications including our ability to listen carefully and understand who we are listening to. It is also one of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. It is how Barack Obama, as a young community organizer, learned that consensus and giving a voice to those he served in Chicago’s Southside, was a hallmark of all effective community organizers. As president, the knowledge he gained on the streets of Chicago became one of his most effective tools for change, not only in America but across the world.

In 1990, Obama wrote a chapter in a book entitled, “After Alinsky: Community Organizing In Chicago” describing the concepts of community organizing:

In theory, community organizing provides a way to merge various strategies for neighborhood empowerment. Organizing begins with the premise that 1) the problems facing inner-city communities do not result from a lack of effective solutions, but from a lack of power to implement these solutions; 2) that the only way for communities to build long-term power is by organizing people and money around a common vision, and 3) that a viable organization can only be achieved if a broadly based indigenous leadership – and not one or two charismatic leaders – can knit together the diverse interests of their local institutions.

“This means bring together churches, block clubs, parent groups and any other institutions in a given community to pay dues, hire organizers, conduct research, develop leadership, hold rallies and education campaigns and begin drawing up plans on a whole range of issues – jobs, education, crime, etc. Once such a vehicle is formed, it holds the power to make politicians, agencies and corporations more responsive to community needs. Equally important, it enables people to break their crippling isolation from each other to reshape their mutual values and expectations and rediscover the possibilities of acting collaboratively – the prerequisites of any successful self-help initiative.”

Oakland As a War Zone
In 1992, Oakland was facing a major racial crisis. The murder rate was climbing in the African American communities and violence overall was affecting the city as never before. A white cop had confessed to killing his wife and had tried to frame the murder on street gangs by writing “war” on her car. Mayor Elihu Harris was on the verge of asking the National Guard to help stop drive-by shootings. The residents of the Oakland hills were talking about seceding from Oakland and renaming their area as a new town called “Tuscany.”

The following two stories are excerpts from the book, “Sitting in the Fire,” by Arnold Mindell. In the first story, Mindell and his team of conflict resolution facilitators had been called in to Oakland to lead a conference on racism sponsored by the city:

The local and national press was portraying Oakland as a war zone. Not many people wanted to come to Oakland for a racism conference. Only a week before the conference, we discovered that scarcely anyone had registered. Reading the papers, you got the sense that if you entered Oakland you would be shot on the spot.

At the last minute, the tide changed. This often happens with open city forums and seminars dealing with conflict. Most are afraid and hope that at the last minute something will require them to go in another direction. Who wants trouble?

When we arrived at the conference site, Merritt College, the room was packed with Blacks, Latinos, whites, Japanese and Koreans. You could feel the tension in the air. It was the first seminar Amy and I had given in the United States where the police were in evidence. They came into the room whenever they thought the yelling was too loud. My experience growing up in diverse groups helped me tolerate the tension. Even so, I found myself doing innerwork to rediscover my Asian, Latino and Black communication styles. I was aware that people would experience us not only through how we felt about them but through how we communicated.

The conference began on a Friday evening. Everyone seemed nervous and cautious. The next morning began quietly. Then a seemingly inconsequential demonstration set off an explosion. John Johnson and Max Shuepbach, an African American and a European American (both part of Mindell’s facilitation team) were demonstrating a conflict-resolution procedure when a Black woman stood up and complained that the demonstration showed a white man putting down a Black man. She immediately went on and yelled that Black men put down black women in the same way.

The quite room went up in flames. Everyone was yelling at once. Our agenda to communicate training skills was taken over by conflict. Dealing with the situation scared many participants. Those who had come for a linear, cognitive presentation were upset. “Where is the framework?” they demanded.

 The situation left us no choice. We didn’t know that it was only four days before what the press would call “the Rodney King race riot.” The atmosphere was loaded. People began to vent their anger about racism and sexism. This was not like the quiet conversations of business meetings or the linear style of organizational development groups that the mainstream participants were accustomed to.

 It was a cacophony of themes, voices and pain. In the midst of the chaos, a Black man spoke out with fury about the privilege of whites who give the good jobs to other whites while Blacks get the undesirable jobs. Things escalated. A white man came forward to meet him and the two men raged at each other, face to face, inches apart. The Black man screamed at the white man about his sense of supremacy and privilege, and the white man warned the Black that if he did not cool off and speak reasonably he would get his “ass kicked.”

That did it. The fire roared. Privilege means, as the reader will realize by now, not only economic power, but the privilege of being cool, calm and detached in communication – the privilege of not having to listen to the rage, fury and sadness of those without power. The whites suddenly split apart; some tried to silence the white man, while others stood by to support him. Blacks came forward and rallied around the Black speaker.

As the voices rose to the screaming level, I remembered that people yell when no one is listening. The invisible, unrepresented part of the group, the ghost role, was the missing listener. I called out that I was listening to each speaker. I listened, and others in the audience began to change “we are Listening” as well. But there was another ghost role, too.

One after another, Black people of all ages, from high school students to elderly folks, came forward to speak about their fury and pain. Other Blacks yelled from the audience that they should stop emoting and let the whites do their work. You could almost taste the tension and agony.

Finally, a Black man came forward and began to sob, quietly, then more vehemently. He was crying out that his pain was the pain of everyone present. He suffered for everybody, and his suffering made some people listen. His heartfelt tears were meant to represent everyone’s suffering from having been repressed and having repressed others for so long, from being unconscious of privileges and racism, from being unheard and unseen. The man made the ineffable audible. The African American who had been arguing with the white man came forward to the center and hugged the weeping man. Slowly, Black women and men came to the center, surrounded him, and held the man as he sobbed. After a few minutes, white people and the rest of the audience came forward, and a huge human ball of warmth hugged that center of agony.

What had been missing in that conflict had been the genuine expression of suffering and pain. The roles of the various races had been represented, but not the role of suffering. It was a ghost. Nothing more needed to be done at that moment. The powerful experience that emerged from the pain brought people together. Many expressed hope; they felt this experience was reason enough to experiment with believing in humankind again.

After lunch, the conference continued. The large group gave its consent for the conflict in the white community to be the focus. A group of thirty white people came into the middle to work on racism with each other. One white man admitted that he did not like the implication that he had to change. Someone suggested that his attitude toward Blacks repressed them. He asked them to control their emotions to make it easy for him to listen. Wasn’t this a misuse of mainstream privilege?

Process workers pointed out that being cool was an option for someone living in a safe place. They argued that it was racist to want those who were being hurt to change their method of asking for change. Other whites said they would never dream of changing.

One white man rose in fury at another for being so arrogant. Amy facilitated the conflict. She pointed out that the accuser felt sad as well as angry and asked him to show it. He told the other man he could not, he felt so strongly about injustice. Why couldn’t other whites get the point?

With Amy’s help, the two men fought and, after about fifteen minutes, developed an understanding of one another. It turned out that the man who championed the status quo had never thought about racism before. The white group continued to work on its conflicts.

Many of the Blacks had never seen white people work on their racism, just as whites had never seen Blacks work on themselves together. Very few people of either race had believed that a large group could enter into a process around race and survive, much less learn something.

On the final morning, people were in a great mood and applauded as one participating after another spoke: Blacks, Latinos, Japanese, gays and lesbians proudly described themselves. The group appreciated the differences. It was like a celebration. It had been a weekend to remember.

When the riots broke out in Los Angeles four days later, the city of Oakland, which had been among the very turbulent spots in the United States, was one of the few cities to remain calm. Riots incinerated neighboring San Francisco and the other cities across the country. Oakland remained quiet. There wasn’t a murder for 25 days following our seminar.

For me, the important thing was the hope that came from that incredible community process – those amazing speakers and leaders had demonstrated that a multicultural group could go so deeply into the unknown that they found within themselves love strong enough to create community.

Clarity As A Requirement for Resolution
Then on a one-on-one level, Mindell writes about clarity as an essential element before resolution, respect and satisfaction can be achieved between two individuals:

Most of us hope for resolutions from group discussions of abuse issues. In fact, we all want resolution of our own issues. Yet it’s not because we are incapable of achieving resolution that it so rarely happens. Causes may include ambiguous feelings, hidden secrets, personal agendas or a desire for revenge. Those with rank are rarely ready to be enlightened about their powers.

That’s why searching for clarity is more sustainable than forcing resolutions before everyone is ready. Resolutions are important, but only within the context of increased clarity. Part of clarity is understanding that almost every conflict is a mixture of social, physical, psychological and spiritual issues.

A participant at one of our conferences was in ill health and used a wheelchair. She asked me to facilitate an argument she was having with her hotel. She had complained about her noisy room so often that the hotel management was asking her to leave. She threatened them with a lawsuit. The hotel manager became furious and complained to me bitterly. The woman turned her head away and refused to negotiate. I told the manager on her behalf that she was using her power to threaten him because, for her, this was not a fair fight. He was the boss of the building she was living in. He was a man; she was a woman. He could walk; she could not. He was on his turf; she was not on hers.

She started listening to what I was saying. I went on stating her case for her: her issue was justice, not finance. Something touched him; he nodded his head slowly. I said that I knew he wanted the best for his business and did not mean to hurt anyone’s feelings. I said I knew money was important to him, but that deep underneath, money was not the issue. He too was listening intently. He said that I was right, money was not the only issue for him. He said he understood her, but was afraid of her anger and power.

She smiled. I said, “Let’s drop the discussion for now. There may be important feelings that want to happen when each of us is alone.” I proposed that we meet later. The manager said that was not necessary and asked the woman to stay. He promised her another room. This painful confrontation was ended, not by pushing for resolution but by raising the manager’s awareness of the discrepancies in their ranks.

Your Awareness as a Communicator
When we discuss our growing consciousness as entrepreneurs communicating to our clients, it is important for us to understand our interactive skills with people. Using Mindell’s terminologies in our practice sessions will help us to speak in common terms so that our own misunderstandings are minimized. I would suggest that you practice your ability to listen so that the various methods of communications you’ll come across from your clients will become more acceptable to you. A common method for making sure you understand the other person is to repeat what you believe you heard and see if the other person agrees. Your goal should be to empower your clients to speak with clarity and honesty where they feel comfortable and fearless. Ultimately, you too, should feel comfortable with the various communication styles you’ll come across as well as your own ability to help others achieve their goals. By doing so, your clients will help you achieve your goals in return.

Here are Mindell’s most important terms for describing relationship traits:
Consensus – an agreement to address a certain topic or follow a direction for a limited time.
Edge – a communication block that occurs when an individual or group, out of fear, represses something that is trying to emerge.
Field – the atmosphere or climate of any community, including its physical, environmental and emotional surroundings.
Hot Spot – in a group setting, a moment of attack and defense, fight and flight, ecstasy, apathy or depression.
Metaskill – the feeling with which theory, information and techniques are applied.
Process – the flow of overt and covert communication within an individual, family, group, culture or environment. Process includes inexpressible feelings, dreams and spiritual experiences.
Primary Process – the self-description, methods and culture with which you and your group identify yourselves. “Process” in primary process emphasizes how identity changes in time. Rank – a conscious or unconscious, social or personal ability or power arising from culture, community support, personal psychology and/or spiritual power. Whether you earned or inherited your rank, it organizes much of your communication behavior, especially at edges and in hot spots.
Role or Timespirit – a cultural rank, position or viewpoint that depends on time and place. Roles and timespirits change rapidly because they are a function of the moment and locality. Roles in groups are not fixed but fluid. They are filled by different individuals and parties over time, keeping the roles in a constant state of flux.
Secondary Process – aspects of ourselves that we, as individuals or groups, prefer not to identify with. Often we project these aspects onto people we view as the “enemy.” We may marginalize or admire these qualities, creating inferior or superior traits in other groups. Your success in business and more importantly in your life, requires communication skills that speak inclusively.

There is never any good in excluding others – even if they do not fit your business niche because at the very least, you can agree to disagree or in this case, come to an understanding that what you offer does not match their needs. We are a society no matter what size - from a man and woman living in the same household to a city of diverse nationalities. There is no such thing as isolation where you can divorce yourself from your surroundings. You can; however, create your surroundings in an intra-dependent community based on open, honest communication that seeks to provide a voice for everyone and an inclusive set of rules for cooperation. This is the way to do business.

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