Have you noticed yourself being a little more overtly frustrated by the normal conversations you engage in, day to day in your organization? Have you found yourself a little less tolerant than you used to be about sitting in meetings you wondered why were happening at all? These are different times in our organizations and the currency of interaction, conversations, are struggling to keep up with these times. Our minds know things are different but our words sound hauntingly familiar.
The researched, foundational model of many of our assessments, the Types of Work Model outlines 9 work functions, one of which is called Maintaining. The key question of the Maintaining function is “What is really important?’ It is a response to this question that our minds are searching for right now, yet the process of our conversations are really struggling to enable a response.
Located in the southwest of the Types of Work Model the Maintaining function quite often gets overlooked or pushed aside by more pressing and immediately urgent functions. Even its name, Maintaining, creates images of slowness to change and adapt, holding on to the status quo and preserving what is, at the expense of the new and needed. These images are inaccurate if you scratch just a little bit below its pale blue surface.
Of all the functions, it is the only one that continually happens, whether we consciously focus on it or not. Its question, “What is really important?” is continually answered by the activities we engage in; by what we do, day in and day out. And it is this day to day, hidden nature of the Maintaining function that makes the conversational processes we are engaging in these days more frustrating than ever before.
All interactions, all conversations are both enabled and constrained by the power dynamics at play with those involved. Some of those power dynamics will be specific to the people involved and some will be specific to the context in which the conversation occurs. Those attached to the people tend to be far more obvious than those attached to the context, and this is the big challenge with many of our conversations right now. So many of our organizational conversations are constrained by virtually unquestioned assumptions that it makes our words seem totally inadequate to what we really want to express.
Examples of assumptions that often drive our frustration can include: not being able to talk about contraction because it’s bad; not being able to talk about money because only more is better; not being able to talk about feelings because they don’t matter; not being able to talk about fear because it’s weak; or not being able to talk about what’s really important because you might not be able to do anything about it. And the most problematic constraint of all; not being able to talk about not being able to talk about these things because we have lost the process and language!
Actual change in society almost always runs ahead of our capacity to understand it. This is the case right now. The change in our organizational society has moved faster than the change in our conversational processes to talk about it. Our conversational structures lag behind the reality of our experience. And sometimes you just want to scream with impatience, because it’s the only adequate way, it seems, of expressing yourself at all as you sit in another meeting about strategy or investment or human capital or resourcing and all the illusions of control that smother the ever present request of the Maintaining function… “What’s really important?”
Let’s give ourselves some space here. Let’s recognize that we need to learn and experiment with different conversations. Let’s allow our conversations to be awkward, tentative and often misunderstood. Let’s allow them to happen more than just once before we make a decision. Let’s try out new words and sentences as we learn a conversational process that can match our experiences of today. Because nothing will change things more than the conversations we have with each other.