Archive for Communication

On Parallels between Paul and Eisler, and Group Mind

Carman, It’s always a pleasure to read your thoughts. Thank you for highlighting the parallels between Eisler on Partnership and Paul. I hadn’t fully appreciated this aspect of Paul.  The opposition of “flesh” and “spirit” is a key theme in many theologies, so I read him more literally.  I do hear and appreciate that you interpret Paul’s words differently, with an interesting result.   

[12/8/09:  Carman, I’ve been continuing to mull your interpretation of Paul, and see some strong parallels with my own [process] train of thought. If we use the idea of “small self'” in place of “flesh,” I agree that these ideas do begin to describe a holistic, Partnership approach. I think the original metaphor is problematic in that it is too limited and freezes an occassionally conflicting relationship between different aspects (or intelligences) of ourselves into permanent opposition.  I think this core antagonism is paradigmatic, in a sense, of the ethic of opposition, domination and control towards others in a dominator system. If instead, we recognize difference rather than antagonism, we retain the possibility of a higher, creatively intelligent resolution which surpasses what we can  imagine as individuals.]

Another area of concern for me, with regard to Paul, is his statement in Corinthians 14:34-35 which seems to promote the subordination of women to men, which would be contrary to an ethic of Partnership:  “As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.”  That said, I’ve also read that this is often or usually interpreted to refer to a specific situation rather than as a generalization  

I know that you have some expertise on this subject.  What are your thoughts?  

I am interested to explore the key question that you have posed: “If a Partnership group were being infiltrated by dominator tendencies, how would you address the issue, especially if dissolution were imminent?”

I am drawn to the idea that a higher wisdom can emerge in groups where there is shared intention, trust, active listening, mutual encouragement and appreciation. I’ve found that in really healthy, collaborative groups there can be a kind of ” magic” — a very satisfying experience of co-creativity in which the result is clearly better than members might achieve alone.

Two quotes from Napolean Hill seem to speak to that notion:

“When two or more people coordinate in a spirit of harmony and work toward a definite objective or purpose, they place themselves in position, through the alliance, to absorb power directly from the great storehouse of the creative mechanism of each contributing mind.”

And:  “No two minds ever come together without, thereby, creating a third, invisible, intangible force which may be likened to a third mind.”

For me, these quotes bring together the very compatible principles of Partnership and holism.

Would you like to consider a particular concrete situation and reason together?


P.S.  I think we have your rain today!  The skys just opened up.

Given the high cost of denial, how can we encourage open communication?

Carman,  Thank you for offering the example of Orwell’s Oceania, as perhaps the ultimate example of a Dominator organization. Oceania is perhaps a pure example of a direction that human organizations can take when their core value is power (money and power-over) and there are no other strong mitigating values or externally or situationally imposed limitations.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about the role of “doublethink” and “newspeak” which are both reflected in the well documented phenomenon in which organizations say one thing and do another.

This gap between public communications and action can arise for several reasons:
1) Lack of self-awareness on the part of the leader (we are not always aware of our true motives);
2) Belief in an ideal but a lack of awareness of the true costs;
3) Cynicism.

Whatever the cause, doublespeak and newthink involve both conscious or unconscious denial and projection. This gap between what is said an what is done, leads to skepticism, a lack of investment on the part of organizational members, and ultimately poor performance.

One example, would be one in which organizational leaders and corporate policy discuss the importance of product quality or customer service, while acting in ways that reduce that capacity. The pressure to reconcile the public face and actual practice tends to flow downhill to the front lines (often the least powerful members of the organization). If a person at the front lines was to express the perception that the “organization isn’t really committed to quality (or customer service – whatever it might be), there is a good chance that that person would be considered perverse, negative – perhaps a poor performer.  “After all, it is obviously company policy that we serve our customers… and we’ve asked others in the department and they don’t share your view…”

The way a company approaches public statements regarding ethics and how it ensures that the organization complies with ethical policies is particularly sensitive. In one situation I observed, team members all privately identified ethical violations in their immediate environment, but most publically stated that they did not know of any violations. The reasons they gave for not reporting the violations were: 1) Fear of possible negative consequences, and 2) the belief that the company did not really want to know.

In this kind of environment, there is a deep lack of trust, and problems can become more difficult to identify and fix…

So, leaders who want to develop healthy, flexible organizations in which members believe and are invested have a stake in creating an environment in which organizational members can share their experiences and perspectives without fear of negative consequences.

The power differential between managers and individual contributors, itself, tends to reduce upward feedback. “Newspeak” further reduces trust.

What steps can leaders take to create an environment of trust and safety to support open and constructive communication?

Creating healthy organizations

In re-reading your post, I continue to notice new levels of richness and meaning.

Freire describes some of the core insights of Partnership: “Any situation in which some individuals prevent others from engaging in the process of inquiry is one of violence” (Pedagogy of the Oppressed, p.66).

Yes, as Freire describes, domination is system of relations, including our relation to self. We are divided beings in as much as we internalize the voice(s) of dominant, controlling others. As young children, we tend to absorb parental and cultural moods, attitudes, and perspectives. It is, therefore, so often true that children of dominating parents (or of a hostile culture) struggle with self-criticism and self-doubt. In the Dominator paradigm, this is the position of feeling “less than” others. In this psychological literature, this is sometimes called “shame.”

Psychology also describes “projection” as a psychological defense mechanism. One way of copying with our “disowned […] feeling, wishes, needs and drives […] is to attribute them to others” (Bradsahw, 109). We may also gain some temporary relief from the pain of internalized oppression through identification with the oppressor (Bradshaw 106). When we identify with dominator (our externalized notions of power, prestige), we may experience ourselves as feeling “better than.” In this state, we may project undesireable characteristics onto others and “do unto others as has been done unto us.” It is, therefore, a truism that, in the absence of healing, people who have been abused, often become abusers themselves.

In a dominator system (such as is predominant in our culture), there is a tendency to either feel less than or greater than others, and whether one feels inferior or inferior can vary depending on time and circumstance.

Judgement appears to be the mechanism by which this occurs. Therefore, it is not surprising that it is common to fear the judgement of others — particularly those we perceive to have some level of power over our lives.

One dynamic for maintaining the “upper hand” in a dominator relationship is silencing, in which one does not permit others the privilege of speaking their truths. This dynamic may be internalized as self-silencing.

Codependency has been defined in a variety of ways. One pertinent definition is, “A pattern of coping which develops because of prolonged exposure to and practice of dysfunctional family rules that make difficult the open expression of thought” (

This same dynamic has been described in organizations. In the 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness, Stephen R. Covey describes the dynamics of codependency in organizations and how its negative effect on organizational effectiveness (17). For an excerpt, see:

Author John Gardner writes, “Most ailing organizations have developed a functional blindness to their own defects. They are not suffering because they cannot resolve their problems, but because they cannot see their problems.” The perspective of each individuals and organization (which is ultimately shaped by its members) seems natural and normal; therefore, real alternatives may not be readily seen, or when seen, may seem counter-intuitive. Seeing alternatives, including personal and organizational health, is an imaginative act.

If we can label a core problem of contemporary organizations to be co-dependence, then, what might the literature of psychology and recovery have to teach us with respect to creating healthier, more flexible, collaborative, and creative environments?

Also, what is the relationship between a Partnership relationship and perspective (based on mutual thriving), coaching and the psychological-social paradigm of recovery?

Our House

Carman, Thank you, as always, for your post. Your contributions really enrich this forum. The dynamics you describe resonate with what Riane Eisler would call Dominator dynamics, which describe theory x organizations. In a Dominator culture, one is either one up or one down from others. It also invokes the dual-nature you describe (“Who is addressing me?”)

I am also reminded of the psychological dynamics in which people who are abused in some way, often abuse certain others, as a way of regaining their sense of personal power. You shared Freire’s quote, “Any situation in which some individuals prevent others from engaging in the process of inquiry is one of violence.” I think we are so accustomed to these more subtle forms of violence (as compared to physical violence) that they tend to be relatively invisible to us. I think it’s helpful for us to broaden our understanding of violence and coercion.

Eisler identifies the fundamental model of human relationships as the family, and that resonates with me. From that perspective, our organizations are, in a sense, the family or community model writ large.

I enjoy hearing about your walks and life. Have a terrific week!


“We shape our dwellings, and afterwards our dwellings shape us.”

Hello Lisa,

Thank you for your discussion of consciousness in the context of organizational transformation. The sunshine of such examination shining through the tears of my lived experience has generated a rainbow of emotions and ideas. I will attempt to integrate some of these from your spectrum.

I especially enjoy the reference to Socrates who seemed to equate quality of life with self-examination. Freire put it this way, “Any situation in which some individuals prevent others from engaging in the process of inquiry is one of violence” (Pedagogy of the Oppressed, p.66).

Your post includes references to “supports,” “connections,” and “foundations.” The image of the house or “dwelling that shapes us” comes to mind. Freire likewise speaks about “the structure of thought” in the context of oppression. Speaking about the oppressed, Freire says, “their ideal is to be men; but for them, to be men is to be oppressors” (p.27). He suggests that employees actually “house” the boss and that this habitation both determines their identity as men and women, and dictates their actions towards one another. Freire describes this process as “hosting” the oppressor (p.30).

Elsewhere he says that the “boss” is “inside them” (p. 46). The consequence is “adhesion” to the employer (p.27) within a colonized consciousness which renders us dual beings, “they are at one and the same time themselves and the oppressor whose consciousness they have internalized” (p30). In this state we might ‘strike out at our comrades [or loved ones] for the pettiest reasons’ (p.44).

“It is a rare peasant who, once “promoted” to overseer, does not become more of a tyrant towards his former comrades than the owner himself” (p.28) “Their ideal is to be men [sic]; but for them, to be men is to be oppressors. This is their model of humanity” (p.27). According to this logic, we invariably take our work home with us because we house the “boss” within us. We are dual beings.

While I do concede that Freire is speaking about “peasants,” I also believe that the principles are applicable across a range of organizational experience. I am not suggesting that all employers are “oppressors.” Freire is primarily thinking about those who dehumanize others by treating them as “objects,” “things,” “inferiors,” “possessions.” Periodically, when a ‘comrade’ speaks about the work they are doing, or what “needs to be done” I want to ask, “Who is addressing me?” “Who is speaking to me?” because I sense that I am addressing a dual being. I confess that it’s difficult at times to know whose “voice” I am hearing—or what voice I am using. Many of us will, in fact, say “we” when speaking about our organization and its policies.

At times when I witness emotional fissures and interpersonal frictions I wonder to what extent we are expressing the duality dynamic Freire addresses. I also wonder to what extent sickness and stress are expressions of a conscious or subconscious inner battle between the individual and the employer?

Freire says, “The task of the humanists is to see that the oppressed become aware of the fact that as dual beings, “housing” the oppressors within themselves, they cannot be truly human” (p.70). He says that “liberation” is a childbirth, and a painful one (p.31). I am grateful to have a “midwife” like you Lisa to assist with such delivery.

Bye for now!

p.s. “we” are going for a seawall walk now.


Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum, 2007.

Silence and speaking in organizations

Hi Carman,
I apologize that it has been taking me so long to respond to your thoughtful and insightful posts. I appreciate your ongoing contributions to this endeavor!

Thank you (first) for your discussion of cultures of silence. The quote you chose from Charles Davis was a very apt illustration of how we internalize the power structures in which we participate:

“Exterior un-freedom causes interior un-freedom. A child first learns to talk or think aloud, then afterwards to think without voicing its thought.”

Deconstructive postmodernists (with whom I share both agreement and disagreement) have observed that assertions of truth are acts of power. This is very evident in a court of law, where attorneys put forth a view of reality which serves them and their clients. This is also true in dominator organizations, where authority and power are often perceived to arise (in part) from being “right” and where, in a circular way, might makes right. Certain views and positions become “legitimate” and others, which question or challenge these perspectives may be viewed as heritical or a power play. (1)

In the same way that in a dominator family, a child is shusshed for “talking back” or challenging parental authority, in dominator organizations, members may be admonished for raising perspectives and positions that challenge organizational orthodoxy. (This seems to come back to your post on orgaizations as theocracies…). And what is true of families and organizations is also true with respect to our larger institutions and culture.

So, in dominator organizations, organizational members learn to silence themselves, effectively internalizing the outer controls, so as to avoid “punishment.” This self-silencing can become so automatic, that we are barely consciously aware of it.

Further, it is also taboo to discuss the silencing itself. Because it pulls back the covers on power relationships, challenges the legitimacy and absoluteness of existing truth claims, and because there is the sensibility that “that war” was already fought and won,” raising the existance of the taboo tends to both threaten and irritate people. A very successful control structure maintains both the silence and suppression of awareness or discussion of the silence itself.

Conversely, speaking in our own voice is a form of self-assertion, of “power-from-within.” And, when we share our truths an perspectives as part of a mutually-respectful dialogue or larger conversation, this sharing can become the co-creative “power-with” in which the flow of energy and ideas in the group gives rise to broader insights and more powerful ideas than would be the case of a person acting singly. Master coach Karen Capello calls this the power of authenticity:

It is the empowering, creative energy that organizations want and need. The challenge, as I see it, is that to be truly creative, many organizations need to rethink their assumptions about power and knowledge, and the role of leadership.

(1) This is not always true, of course. Alternative ideas may be considered within certain bounds, depending on both the idea and the speaker. (This speaks to the concept of rhetorical communities).

More on humanizing systems (and the brain)

Hi Carman, As always, your posts are both intellectually enriching and poetic.

Years ago, Alfonso Montuori and I wrote an essay on how our philosophical paradigm and guiding metaphors have shaped organizations and leadership, and created the blind spots that now limit organizations. A very perceptive reviewer suggested the article would be all the more impactful if it was written from the voice that naturally emerges from the perspective we descibe. You write in that voice.

You make an excellent point about humanizing systems, and I appreciate your references to Weber and Havel. It raises the question: Are we meant to serve our systems, or are they meant to serve us?  There is so much more to be said here about human and social psychology in a “mechanistic system” or a “theocracy.”  But, for the moment, I, too, am drawn to explore more creative and fulfilling possibilities. ..

Towards that end, I would like to offer an additional perspective. In our essay, Alfonso Montuori observes that we tend to emphasize and value either the individual or the group — one in opposition to the other. For example, capitalism vs. communism; the lone hero fighting the oppressive organization.

However, Montuori also observes that sense of opposition itself reflects a worldview of separation (which I would loosely associate with our ideas of left brain cognition).  Rather, from a systems point of view, he suggests, it’s a matter of “both/and. ” The organization and individual are part of a single continuum. In a sense, each is in and shapes the other.  In a healthy organic system, groups exist to serve their members, and members serve the group so that it continues to sustain them. We could also add that a healthy organic system also recognizes that its own sustainability requires a healthy environment…    

A key distinction between a healthy organic system and bureaucratic systems is that, as rational systems, bureaucratic systems tend to make objects of their members. Using the machine analogy, the “subject” is the operator of the machine, and the experience of organizational members is not considered as important as the economic and other outcomes of the organizational machine. Often it could be said of these organizations that the experience of organizational members only makes a difference in so much as as it affects the bottom line.

This machine also exists inside many of its members — who learn not to value our own subjective experience.  For example, there have been times in my organizational career, where I had so much to do (produce) that I literally felt machine-like and disconnected from my feelings.

My perspective is that in a hierarchal, bureacratic system (which emphasizes external power relations), we are enculturated to feel primarily those emotions associated with our dynamic place in the pecking order: anxiety, anger, depression and for the lack of a better word, “glory.” But, in as much as we are encouraged to subordinate the quality of our experience to economic and other outcomes, there is an inclination to shut down other feelings, including empathy, which is considered to be “soft” and “feminine” and therefore, less appropriate to an organizational environment.

Being a biological organism myself 🙂 I believe that when one of my bodily subsystems is in distress (or very healthy), I feel it — either unconsciously or consciously.  Conversely, when I am happy or in distress, every system in my body is impacted by that.  In other words, I think that the quality of holism arises, at least in part, from mutual feeling (of parts and the whole).  [I’m very influenced in this train of thought by Alfred North Whitehead’s process philosophy.]

So, I think the restoration of feeling and the revalorization of the quality of our subjective and inter-subjective experience is key to a more cognitively balanced (Partnership) approach to organizations…  To come full circle, this is a quality I hear in your writing.

thank you so much for this inspiring conversation!

Organization as brain, intelligent creative energy

Carman, regarding: your post: I completely agree.

This is a good example of how our metaphors can limit our thinking. The mind-body dichotomy, in which mind is usually seen as separate from and superior to the body, has been a fundamental cultural metaphor. Related metaphors include: God-World, spirit-flesh, and the misogynist male-female dichotomy in which men were considered rational and transcendent, and women more “bodily” and immanent. According to this pattern (or guiding metaphors), the World, the organization, the body … are all viewed as machines, controlled by an intelligent external force. These ideas were also applied to social organization.

Although the machine analogy has some uses, the metaphor is based on the faulty assumption that the world (including our bodies) are machine like. To the degree that we operate with this assumption, we behave in ways that actually suppress organizational intelligence and creativity. (For an example of how perception can create reality, see Jane Elliott’s social experiment

In addition to the one you mentioned, a great source on the intelligent body is Dr. Candace Pert’s, Your Body is Your Subconscious Mind. It also supports somatic approaches to psychology.

I like your proposal to consider the entire organization as “brain”; it is more realistic and as a guiding assumption would tend to lead us towards behaving in ways that cultivate organizational intelligence and creativity.  Or a related analogy might be “body-mind.” 

I wonder what it would do for us to consider organizations as creative, intelligent energy?  Might it lead us to open up to these qualities, to the creative intelligent energy of others? (Thinking about it, this is a process view of organizations …)

Some related posts:

Metaphors of Organization: Organization as Brain …

Carman writes: Perhaps we could begin with “Brain.” While many are inclined to see the brain as somehow separate from and higher than the rest of the body, Morgan proposes that “intelligence” is, in fact, distributed throughout the entire body—such as the legs hands, feet.

In short, there is no master, centralized intelligence. The brain, says Morgan, “is linked to quasi-independent processes linked to a minimal set of key rules making the whole system appear to have an integrated, purposeful, well-coordinated intelligence.”

This makes sense to me. The intelligence of a symphony orchestra for example, is not confined to the conductor but is rather “distributed” throughout the system. I suggest that society has overstated the role of the brain and understated the integrated functioning of the rest of the body. The separation of “brain” (manager) and “hand” (worker) is a popular practice in organizations. Viewing the entire organization as “brain” however, might be more productive (and realistic).

Your thoughts?


Cultivating strength

Especially given the turmoil in the markets in recent days, it seems to be good timing to return to the subject of how we can leap off the “hamster wheel of fear” — a self-perpetuating negative cycle — and onto our wheel of creative freedom.  Recently, I had the privilege to watch a presentation by certified hypnotherapist, Monica Justus, CHt.  Ms. Justus invited a volunteer from the audience, a local business owner with a technical background whom I would consider a skeptical person, and demonstrated the effect of thoughts and words on our physical and mental strength.

For the demonstration, she asked him to extend his arm straight out to the side, which he did. She then asked him his name, which he answered truthfully. She pressed down strongly on his extended arm, but it remained strong and in place, demonstrating strength. She then asked him to respond to the question in a way that was not true.  Strikingly, his arm weakened, and she was easily able to push it down.  I’ve since used this demonstration in a training situation — it works.

It appears that when we speak our truth, we are, in fact, stronger.

Ms. Justus went on to test the effect of positive and negative words and concepts. The words “love” and “peace” tested “strong.” The word “war” caused his arm to go weak.

We spend most of our days thinking and communicating with others. What is the quality of our thoughts? Do we think self-defeating and fearful thoughts that weaken us, or do we look for the positive in ourselves and our situation? Do we see problems or opportunities? 

And, are we living and speaking our truth or supressing our true thoughts out of fear?  (On this note, I don’t advocate reckless, controlling, or inconsiderate speech. However, if your situation does not safely permit you to express your perspective, it may be worthwhile to consider how you might alter your situation).

Choosing what makes us stronger, including our truth, and a constructive perspective is a key to shifting off the wheel of fear, and onto our wheel of creative freedom.  More on this later!

What kind of dance are we doing?

In my last post, I succumbed 🙂 to using the dance analogy for describing how we negotiate what is taking place in any interaction or relationship. We could use the term “negotiation” or “game” but the first suggests conscious “strategy” and even manipulation, and for me, the second invokes transactional analysis, which describes some common scripts or “dances” that people tend to engage in together.

No, the term “dance” works well because while it can involve conscious intention, it’s more holistic, reflecting both the mental and physical, conscious and subconscious interactions. Given that 80% or more of communication is non-verbal, this analogy reminds us that our body language and tone of voice are conveying much more than our words do.

These dances happen on a very small scale (what kind of conversation are we having with ourselves?) to a very large scale (national and global). For example, most of us are familiar with the classic “dysfunctional family dance” in which grown children return home only to find themselves in the sway of old roles and communication patterns. There are the all-too-common painful dances of co-dependence and addiction, of victim and victimizer, and conversely, the constructive and pleasurable dances of supportive friendships and high performing teams.

The dance we do is always at least partly a reaction or response to the dance that other people are doing. Just as in some forms of dance, one person moves forward and the other moves backwards, people tend to respond to each other in complementary ways, which may evolve into more structured roles. As a day-to-day example, after dinner, I clear the table and my husband does the dishes. We didn’t plan it that way — it just evolved. Small, organic organizations typically evolve this way, and as they grow the roles become more formalized.

Therefore, one way of thinking about culture, including organizational culture, is as a dance of complementary relationships. As with families, these dynamics can be constructive or dysfunctional. Either way, the power of the situation very often leads us to react in ways that tend to perpetuate that situation.

In my next post, we’ll consider the Stanford Prison experiment as an example of how easily a professor and a group of college students were able to slip into a highly dystopian dance within a very short period of time through the power of role playing. The purpose is to illustrate the power of role playing to create rather gripping realities. We are all already doing this today, but we are not always consciously aware of it. By becoming consciously aware of these dynamics, we are better able to respond in ways that create the outcomes we want.

1. Make a list of your significant relationships. These may include work-related relationships and can include relationships with groups as a whole.
2. What role do you play in each relationship? What role do others play in relation to you?
3. Do you notice any patterns?
4. What are the outcomes for you? for others?