Communication Leadership skills People skills

Paradigm Persistance

I had to smile inwardly. It wasn’t that I disagreed with the content of what she was saying. Many others say it similarly, such as Edgar Schein calling it humble inquiry, Miller and Rollnick calling it tempering our reparation reflex, Martin Appelo the suppression of our desire to convert and my term observational listening. We all imply that the arrogance of a western approach of telling people what all they’re doing wrong and what they all should do to fix that, ignores the fundamental rule that no-one has the truth, no-one is the arbiter of what’s right and what’s wrong and that it’s all about perspective. This over above that telling others what to think or do is a direct affront to their natural need for autonomy. All of the above thinkers also imply the way forward is to acknowledge your own ignorance about another’s perspective and to truly listen in order to understand, call it being humble as both Edgar Schein and this speaker did. So in terms of the content of her message I was in agreement with her. So why the internal smile? The way it was brought. In a monologue of about 45 minutes in which she repeated herself at least four times (as though if you repeat something often enough it becomes true), misconstruing what other speakers before her had said (that is, without checking that she actually understood what those speakers meant), not even letting questioners complete their question (that is, assuming she understood the question without listening), all of this made me smile. Everything she was doing was a contradiction of the content of her message: She was telling people to be humble and listen, preaching if you like, with the same colonial paternalistic tone which she was warning the public not to employ. And I was watching the lights go out in the public one by one: most managed the first rendering, others could still appreciate her passion for the first repetition, but by the end of the tirade very few people were still listening and about a quarter of the people had actually psychically removed themselves from the hall. So why was I smiling inwardly? Funnily enough not at the paradox illustrated by the contradiction between the content of the message with manner in which it was brought, but by the persistence of the cultural paradigms with which we are brought up. And how totally unaware we are that we apply those paradigms. Even, or perhaps especially, when we’re busy challenging those very paradigms.

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