Tuesday, June 25, 2024

cell913blog.com #57

 There is an apparent ‘gap’ in organizations between the ‘template of values, aspirations, and beliefs’ and the “ground-work” of the conversations, relationships, and ‘connections’ that embody, incarnate, and live-out these templates.

One can fully concur, in one’s head, with the ideas, the philosophies, ideologies, and aspirations of the group, as a cognitive, intellectual, objective and aspirational objectivity, without necessarily integrating them, through a commitment even to talk about those values and aspirations in the template. And among factors that are helping to generate this ‘gap’ is the social convention of how, if, when and how much to engage in conversations that go past, beyond, around, ‘small talk’.

Socialization, in a face-to-face situation is very different from socialization on what is called ‘social media’ where faceless, and often anonymous communication leaves the initiator’s identity somewhat concealed from the recipient. This ‘pseudo-anonymity’ is also a factor in keeping the two ‘communicators’ somewhat detached, separated and disengaged from each other. Just as, here at this moment, while tapping these keys, I have no face-to-face connection with anyone who might chose to read these words. Somewhere in between, platforms like Zoom, Skype, Facetime, etc. offer an upgrade to the former telephone, in that we can ‘see’ the other person(s) while we chat.

Another aspect to the divide, is the issue of ‘public’ versus ‘private’ aspects of any conversation. We are all highly protective of our personal identity, including whatever experiences, perceptions, attitudes, beliefs, and ‘secrets’ that we all harbour, that just might be a cause for concern, if others, with whom we are unfamiliar, were to be introduced to them. These personal ‘stories’ are those things we guard for any of several reasons.

Protecting other members of our family, or protecting ourselves from what we might ‘assume’ or ‘presume’ to be a kind of shock, surprise, jealousy, anxiety, or even fear from another, if they become party to the details of our life are among those reasons. Assumption, and presumption, however, are not idle nor irrelevant aspects of our protective shield. They both comprise an integral part of our social skills repertoire. They are the verbs/nouns that serve as the ‘grease’ in the ‘joint’ that exists in each one-on-one, face-to-face conversation. And while they are neither given voice, they are part of the unwritten ‘code’ that we believe, with good reason, protects us from having to face our own trauma before we are ready, and from the trauma of others, prior to their having reached their comfort zone with it.

Social distance, whether in a physical encounter, or over a technological device, is always essential to every person in a conversational mode. Much is made, in fact, of the physical structure, the arrangements and even positions in relation to the light in the room, for example, in the professional interview process. Interviewers often, at least in the past, have sought a position in from of a window, in order to better conceal whatever emotion the conversation with the recruit evoked. The size of a desk or table, or even its existence in such interviews, is part of the staging of such conversations. The skill of listening to voice tone, also, is highly receptive to the emotional ‘place’ of the speaker, and can either enhance the conversation (and potential connection) or dissipate its potential. Taking note of body language, another visual component of any conversation, is a skill that comes readily and expectedly to those engaged in the study and apprenticeship of the theatre. Dramatic skills lie at the core of all dramatic productions, and while no one wishes to morph an informal chat into a melodrama, one can at least be aware of signs of either comfort or discomfort in the conversation partner. Closed arms/legs, for example, might indicate a degree of withdrawal and/or resistance, if they occur in the middle of the chat, as would their inverse possibly suggest a relaxation.

Speed of voice and volume are also highly nuanced indices of another’s “presence” that, if we are present ourselves, can tip us off as to ‘how’ the other person is ‘receiving’ whatever we might be saying. High pitched, rapid-fire articulation, like those notes of the violin in the upper register, are, just like those strings, taut, and arresting. Lower tones uttered and received in a slower pace can be quite supportive and comforting in situations of considered emotional angst.

And while these observations may sound like a ‘template’ that encases conversation in ‘unnatural’ and pro-forma directives, simply being aware of the other person’s demeanor will have an impact on what we say, how we say it, and even the length of the encounter.

The question of opening a conversation with a new person, is, however, one of the more challenging thresholds we all face. The weather, the latest scores, perhaps even a highly circulated local event…these are all ‘safe’ topics even for the most reserved, shy and silent types among us. And then, after the opening ‘exchange’ what comes next? Assertiveness, for some, is analogous to, if not actual, aggressiveness. And the line between those behavioural and attitudinal ‘cousins’ (assertiveness and aggression) that perceptions of discomfort and comfort will, like a rising and ebbing tide or breeze, ebb and flow through the course of the conversation.

Doubtless, in such a porous and shifting ‘line’ that depends on the perceptions, attitudes, and personal character of each conversant, men will be at a considerable disadvantage, if they are conversing with women. Sensitive to all of the various signals in a conversation, most women will have had more opportunities of shared talk than most men, and the situations will likely be quite different.

Men, for the most part, are less loquacious than women, and also speak only if and when some specific piece(s) of information needs to be shared. And, as research demonstrates, men prefer to be occupied in some ‘task’ so that they are less conscious of the need to ‘talk’, concentrating on the task and less personally profiled while talking.

Formal conversation, in public meetings, too, have an inherent ‘set of conventions’ that most adults ‘know’ implicitly and these ‘normal’ behaviours tend to guide the conversation, while also providing a model for those wishing to speak. Public institutions, hospitals for instance, have posted signs on their corridors warning about abusive behaviour including intemperate, raised voices. Similarly, in public meetings, a silent ‘code’ of acceptable manner, discourse, language, tone, volume, body movements prevail, for the most part, or engage an intervention of reproach, sanctions or even removal.

The unwritten, conventional and professional expectations of how to converse, while important and warranting attention in a culture in which anger, disrespect and angst prevail. However, it is those intractable forces that swirl around us, war, swarming refugee and migrant movements, climate change, poverty, disease, and the general malaise of seemingly emasculated governance on many of these issues, that bring us up short, sometimes even choking us, provoking involuntary tears from our eyes, a surge of emotional hopelessness in our chests.

Lurking on the edge of each conversation, especially within organized groups, are several significant and relevant ‘variables,’ really expectations that are shared by all members of the group. Each member (participant) enters a kind of tunnel of formal/informal orientation, really more like an assimilation of the ‘codes’ and the models of engagement that have been adopted and inaugurated by the group prior to the entry of the newby.

Paradoxically, a newby can find him/herself totally comfortable with the mission, formal expectations of the organization, while at the same time experiencing a detachment from engagement with established members. Groups too, have few if any formal or informal orientation approaches, save and except for the occasional initiative of individual members who reach out to engage.

Obviously, there is no violation or contravening of the principles of the group in the space between the newby and the organization. Silence, distance, and some level of anticipation of engagement from the perspective of the newby, combine to enhance the potential of both silence and a feeling/perception of wondering ‘how’ and ‘when’ and ‘with whom’ one might ‘open up’ and begin to form some connection.

The apparent ‘convention’ of ‘small talk’ as the welcome mat for conversations, while useful and normal, can devolve into a pattern that continues, safety, ‘cover’ and familiarity that can and often does eclipse the kind of conversation that offers insight, disclosure, even a hint of friction/tension, and a more engaging and challenging experience.

What is missing, while neither malignant nor offensive, nevertheless, serves as a silent ‘moat’ of social distance, whose crossing challenges both newby and the group, individually and collectively.

And while, for some, this situation sounds like micro-managing  how to be more assertive, and thereby dismissible as a serious matter for mature adults, it can be an opportunity for all groups interested in embracing new members to reconsider how to ‘welcome’ those new members and especially how to engage and retain them within the group.

The obvious and preferred response of most groups is to ‘engage’ (perhaps voluntold) new members into an activity which is recognized and respected (and expected) within the group. Ubiquitous in classrooms, gymnasia, athletic teams and workplaces, where “doing” and “performing” are core to the group’s purpose and existence, tasks and ‘doing’ are not necessarily inherent to all groups. Building relationships, as a prime purpose for a group, seems to have been relegated to pubs, and parties and private dinners. Also ‘building relationships’ is far more natural and carries a much higher value among women than among men. Accomplishing the “task” lies at the top of the totem pole for men, and building relationships seems to be a welcome incidental or even accidental.

This issue ticks another box: the presence, tolerance and acceptance of ‘shy’ men and women from the highly gregarious, social and extroverted among us and the culture’s innocent blindness to their sensibilities. Just as there are multiple models of both genders, and leadership, there are multiple contributions from ‘shy’ and withdrawn and reticent men and women whose contribution often is slow to discover and certainly slow to be proferred.

Templates, group expectations, mission statements, and social conventions can and often are roadblocks to their own effective attainment without a conscious and conscientious and critical examination of how people “feel” and how people interact and how people “experience” a new situation. The old adage that as we grow old we care less about what others think, while relevant occasionally, may not ‘cover’ all situations. Indeed, as we gain insight and clarity in how and what we observe and how we experience new situations, we often become more discerning and more reflective and even more nuanced in our perceptions, attitudes and perceptions of acceptance. This is especially relevant if the group’s mission and purpose align with our own identity and conceived potential purpose.

Group depth of insight of individuals, both current and new, and desire to really get to know newcomers is a sine qua non of its enduring and sustaining potential, irrespective of what its purpose and mission articulate. That’s not rocket science, but perhaps worthy of consideration by volunteer organizations.


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