Information. Think about the Word: In Formation
I was on a conference call with colleagues recently to prepare for the Institute’s two-day intensive training that will take place in November in Oakland, California. Our purpose was to prepare a workshop session on “communication.” We covered a lot of ground, talking about audiences, story-telling, web space, print media and varied communication strategies.
There came a point in the conversation when Gordon Walek, who will help lead the training as communications manager for LISC/Chicago, noted that one-to-one relational organizing is another, rather specialized form of communication. I have been thinking about this ever since.
During one-on-one conversations, listening is key to understanding.
We spend a lot of time in our work figuring out what to say, how to say it and what medium to use. Put another way, we plan how to “express” our message so that others will “get it.” And it is good that we do. But listening, as we do in relational organizing, stresses another important result of effective communication: the accurate perception of what others are saying or feeling.
LISC/Chicago has been using “journalist/scribes” for eight years now to chronicle its work and spread the word to others. This has given me the opportunity to closely observe the work of three former journalists. I first met Patrick Barry, John McCarron and Patrick Reardon in the 1970s and 1980s when they were covering urban issues for the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune. Then, and now, I marveled at how they would sit quietly in a meeting or at an event and listen, intensely listen, ask a question now and again, and go back to listening. Listening, and perceiving what they see and hear, vests them with the ability to analyze and understand new subject matter so that, when they retreat to their own private “head-space,” they can write the story.
And boy, do they write stories! Each has a unique style and an individual form of expression to grab us and carry us through the material. But the expression would not be possible without the perception. It is the perception that allows them to “get the story.” It is the perception and understanding of new information that enables the formation of the story.
Human beings evolved over time by adapting to new information in their ever-changing environments. Information, when truly perceived, can change us, and cause us to be “in formation."
In relational meetings we intentionally and intensively listen. We practice the perceptive side of communication. As we receive information it causes us to evolve, adapt, refine our thinking. It causes us to become smarter. Most importantly, it causes us to become more meaningful and more relevant, because by better understanding the people and institutions we are working with, we can shape our strategies and actions to be more effective.
And there is a bonus. The act of listening is also expressive. Done well, it silently screams “this is important!” Have you ever been at a meeting or event when the TV cameras show up? Everyone notices, and feels that the importance of the event has increased. I know that I feel an increased level of significance when Barry, McCarron or Reardon is in the room. I also know that when I intensely listen to someone it expresses my appreciation for what they have to say. That’s an important step: from perception to understanding to making something happen.
Jim Capraro is senior fellow with the Institute.
Posted in Communicating, Thinking Out Loud