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Listening is Culture Change

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Therefore, to change the systemic imperatives of a culture you need to create new options. This is impossible from inside existing culture. That’s the rub. Paradoxically, you need to find a way to step outside of the culture even though it does not give you permission for this.

In a U.K. engine company, I was helping a group sort out some problems when someone came into the room and whispered something to one of the participants. After a quiet flurry of activity, we went on with the meeting. It was odd and the session didn’t seem normal after that. Finally, I asked what happened and they said that Harry downstairs had just died, and we should just go on with the meeting. Perplexed, I asked if we should do something and they said no, there really wasn’t much to do, and someone was looking for Harry’s wife. So we went on with the meeting. A human being had died, a life was no more, and whatever was in their hearts, nobody cared in public.  Looked at from the outside, people were simply operating inside the mechanism of a culture which muted most genuine and emotional self expression.

Marilyn Smith, an attorney, mediator, business broker, and entrepreneur has developed an excellent definition of culture change. She says it’s ‘when a group of people looks at the same thing but sees it differently.’ A culture change happens when you are sitting as a group, in the exact same place, looking out at the exact same circumstances, and they do not look the same as they did before. It’s a result of talking and really communicating, listening to people you had never truly listened to before, even though you have talked to them frequently.  It’s in finding words to express things you never fully expressed before. As a result of this communication, old and familiar issues have a new fluidity. This point might then be the sendoff for taking new kinds of actions and having new types of outcomes. When you see a group with a new set of eyes, you can see the expectations and constrictions that you live and work inside of; and for however long it lasts, you can move about in a new way.”

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