To create corporations, teams, working groups, task forces and even nations there must be the notion of ‘we’. A ‘we’ are together in this, we understand ‘we’ and we agree on ‘we’. To start a ‘we’ one needs a name, the name empowers the clan. Next, ‘we’ needs to start the formulation of a mission, this frames our character and we become an identity. The foundation of a mission is based on consensus, see: 1st issue, outside the episteme. Consensus is a complex and unstable situation, it is opaque. And being a symbol itself it changes while being operational. The mission is written to serve a goal, this goal is the real face behind the mission statement. The mission is the theatre and the actors are all fully coded in their teleological speech. While the grammar is self confirmed, breeches are immanent, always: the actors are dancing on the language tightrope. Acting thus, a self-assured ‘we’, can effectively state: we know our interpretations, we know what we mean when we speak. We know who we are. Our knowledge is alive and is upgraded all the time. We engage regularly in different group exercises, we have closely read ourselves many times, we are self-regulated. But the need for an outside confirmation is big. To be a we, paradoxically ‘we’ needs a continuous threat from outside while the ranks are preferably kept closed. At the same time the idea of an unstable ‘we’ is a direct attack on the fortress ‘we’. Imagine the group becoming diffuse: members walk in and out, challenging the core-identity. ‘We’ needs borders, and regulations, for ‘we’ cannot bear exclusions. Even though ‘we’ might have even integrated our rejects1, as to prove how strong ‘we’ is. There is a need for outsiders to the bubble. A challenged ‘we’ must make it look even stronger. We like to defend a bit of difference, enough to affirm some exclusivity. However this porosity of the ‘we’ borders is an artifice, proofing of this trickery eats up the space of the positive status quo; there is no room for criticism here.
1Barthes, Roland. How to live together. Novelistic simulations of some everyday spaces. 2002. Columbia University Press. New York. (p 81)
Naturally related to the first post about the conversation this post flows into the next issue: the minutes. A meeting is a managed conversation where people are invited to take part. The meeting is held within the professional, branded space, this space might feel like the ‘inner court’, the so-called safe space. To formalise the conversation there is an agenda or a topic. This agenda is made known in advance; the partakers come prepared. One person is the chair and another is taking notes or minutes. This seems very clear and straightforward. The issue here, however, is the quality and/or power of description, or the absence of it. From the notes one can read what has been ‘said’ and the key points and points of action are simply deriving from this. But impossible to note is how and why things are said. The most important character of language must be the embodiment of the words, the tone, the emotion. This is never found back in the minutes. Language is a system that communicates in different flows; maybe it was never meant to end up as notes. The description of meaning in words is an art, the description produces new meaning. One could say that reading poetry is to embrace this mimicry completely. “Writing is precisely that contradiction that turns the failure of communication into a secondary communication, speech for others but speech without the other”.1 On the other side of the spectrum is coding; words act like protocols. They serve only a function. But the language used in meetings is of course not code. This ‘live’ spoken language, it is embodied and there is a traction to what is said. And more-over, language is symbolic, it literally machinates2 ruses, it is a virtual machine. Think of ‘consensus’ see: the 1st issue, outside of the episteme. These hidden machinations in the language, who may reach a mythical level in the branded climate of a company, might have been used to create consensus. Moreover, here is always the voice of the ‘able extrovert’. And here is theatre and orchestration. It is impossible to translate these (body) languages. It is complicated to read a silent introvert. Expressiveness and steering expressions are the tokens of the leading voices. To conclude the meeting there might be a voting or some discussion. Votes are counted. The consensus is made a fact, the silent notes turned into proof. The meeting ends, the partakers each leave with their thoughts. The notes are consolidated, the red herrings are canned, and the minutes become a machine itself.
1 Barthes, Roland. How to live together. Novelistic simulations of some everyday spaces. 2002. Columbia University Press. New York. From foreword: Marty, Éric. (p XI)
2 De Vylder, Paul. De Witte Raaf, Editie 207 september-oktober 2020, Machinaties. Taal is de moeder van alle listen. https://www.dewitteraaf.be/artikel/detail/nl/4817
The first issue is about having a different view, or a different reading, maybe a different understanding of a conversation. A related conversation. In a specific configuration of people and a space where this conversation is held; a topic gets discussed. Later you realise that everybody in the room has heard the same conversation but you are the only one who heard this differently. It is like there was another conversation. It almost looks like you spoke a different language. This is an issue about context. This context comes with you, with the group and with ‘the house’, read space. You enter a conversation with your own conscious mind and your way of looking at the people speaking. You enter with your own pace, dictating your breathing, your listening, your responses. You bring your body into this space, your identity. While listening you already get a different reading. Non verbal communication is happening. Is everybody tuned in as you are? Does everybody share the same reason as you to be here? Do words have the same meaning here? While listening you hear the same words but your interpretation of them is connected to everything you are: you hear your own conversation. It is happening. Then you might experience the room more puzzled because you see emotions you don’t share. It becomes even more complex when the discussion concludes with a general acceptance of the shared emotions that apparently are not yours. This is an agreement or consensus. Even though this group is consisting of your peers or colleagues. You might feel like a stranger. Later things get more out of hand; some of these conversation members repeat what you have said: and it is a different message. Even though the people are your peers or colleagues there are always differences in age, gender, education, class, background, culture. Now in general there is a tendency to create and favour diverse teams. Diverse teams should be better than mono-identical teams. One is aware of each other’s differences, this creates interests and enables bonding. While the use of language is unaligned, there is a common speech. Diverse teams exist everywhere in professional contexts but also in the domain of leisure or domicile. In a professional work entourage one is happy to be part of a diverse team. Basically there is a shared goal. So one might conclude this diverse group is connected in spite of different individuals who take part. This makes it even more surprising how one gets to be misunderstood or disconnected. It is toxic how a certain understanding is forced into a speech. Is there no escape out of this xenos-content. And, are there knowledge hierarchies? To disagree with the meaning and use of the chosen words is to disagree with the general idea, just established. Often in work related speech there is already an accepted use of words and their meaning; the in-house language, or company language; branded speech? Is there a way out? Yes there are possibilities for learning and repair. One has to be prepared to examine together why certain words are used and what do they mean? This is very time consuming, like building a relationship. One has to be prepared to understand each and every word from each other: this is interest in a personal context. Knowledge must be spread horizontally throughout the group. Time must be given to words to get filled with new connotations, or time to unravel personalised values. Give slowness to the episteme of the group or the ‘house’ to grow and to get known. This is time well spent 1 and it should be cared for.