The Complexity of Good Interactions

Tom GibbonsChange, Complexity, Organization Development, Presence, Social ConstructionLeave a Comment

I had the opportunity and pleasure of spending last evening with a group of HR professionals in our city of London, Ontario.  I had been asked to come and talk a little about our approach to understanding organizations and what we call our infinity interaction process.

Other things were happening at this get together.  There was celebration of the work done by this group and its volunteers, recognition of achievements of members of the group and overall a good feeling permeated the room.

Given this context I decided to change what I had planned to start with and instead asked people to discuss at their tables some examples of things that were going really well for them at work.  I don’t really know what the content of those conversations were and we didn’t ‘debrief’ them as a big group but it seemed there was some good interaction going on and some good examples as well.

The point of this question in terms of how it relates to our infinity interaction process is that when something is going well for you, you can be pretty sure that effective interactions are happening.

One of the foundations of how we understand organizations is that nothing, nothing happens outside of the interactions we have and organizations are nothing more than the patterns of interactions that emerge through countless day to day interactions between people.  That is why every interaction matters.

Often when people tell their stories of good things happening for them there is an assumption that the interactions that make up the experience must have been good, with good being defined as pleasant, easy, aligned and so forth.  And yet if you listen well to the story you often find that some, perhaps many of the interactions were quite challenging, often with significant levels of conflict or disagreement.  They might not be the kind of interactions that you would wake up in the morning and say, “Wow do I ever hope my day is full of these types of tough interactions!”

And yet the story is about something that is happening that the person feels good about.

In terms of the model above what often seems to be important in making these difficult, yet effective interactions make up a good experience is the loop that leads from interaction to intention; the bottom right arrow in the diagram above.  In order for this arrow to actually be part of the process of interaction (and often it isn’t) there needs to be an acceptance that the gesture from one person and response of another need to be taken together for meaning to emerge.  This means then that the interaction itself will affect the intentions of those involved.  So many difficult interactions become a battle of immovable, conflicting intentions and the top right arrow, from intention to interaction simply plays itself out again and again with little if any movement forward between people.  These types of interactions rarely produce good experiences.

What is interesting about this dynamic is that we are inundated with ‘techniques’ to help that bottom right arrow happen.  Techniques to help us be ‘present’, to ‘listen actively’, to be ‘empathetic’ or ‘open’.  And yet none of these techniques is really all that effective if you don’t really believe that a gesture and a response together create meaning.

The assumption that most interaction is based on is that the gesture goes one way and if it is done clearly enough the response is a given, predictable outcome.  Meaning only exists in the gesture and the response is simply something to be adapted to.

If you really believe that the gesture and the response together create meaning then pretty much any ‘technique’ works wonderfully well.  In fact you rarely even need technique since it is easy to be present, listen well etc. if you know the possibility exists in every interaction for you and others to be different afterward.

And I’m certainly a little different after last night.  I heard new stories, made new connections and wrote this blog post because of it.  I’ve had new interactions and it is through interactions that we all emerge.

Author – Tom

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