The reason why we need to talk


People need to act and make decisions in situations where there is considerable uncertainty. Different people hold different beliefs and have personal biases and agendas. However, people very reluctantly acknowledge that they face ambiguity at work. Problems in organizations tend to get labeled as lack of information. It feels more professional to try to solve a (knowledge) management problem that is called lack of information than a problem that really should be called confusion. The same event means different things to different people and just getting more information will not help them.

What would help is a setting where they could negotiate and construct new ideas that would include their multiple interpretations of what they experience.

The challenge is that people often treat the existence of multiple views as a symptom of weakness that should be solved with power, rather that as an accurate and needed barometer of uncertainty that can only be solved with interaction.

A mix of stimuli always surrounds people. The stimuli have no meaning apart from what the individuals make of it. In other words, the meaning of the environment is a product of the persons, not the environment, not something outside of them. People are selective in what they attend to and what is attended to becomes the environment. Thus, our reality is not an objective set of arrangements outside us, but is continually constructed socially.

If people want to do things together they need to create something that is shared, they need to talk about their experience in a common language and have a shared context for conversation. Because any information can mean a variety of things, meaning can never be simply discovered. We have to talk!

Many meetings that are directed at the problems of ambiguity fail to handle it because potentially rich views are silenced by autocratic leadership or norms that encourage harmony and agreement. There is perhaps understandable reluctance to admit that one has no idea what is going on!

A crucial property of working together is that situations can be progressively clarified in iterative interaction, in conversation. This is why work should be understood as interaction between interdependent people.

Our reality and our thinking is an ongoing mutual accomplishment.

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