Rediscovering One's Voice

Image: Miguel at 5 Years of age

As a five year old kid, I'm told I had a lot to say. In fact, they couldn't keep my mouth shut. Over time, though, I started censoring myself. "What would Uncle Johnny think if I said 'You'll die of cancer if you keep smoking those cigarettes?'" (uh, he did die of lung cancer). Worse, what would Mom and Dad do to me? Eventually, the workplace takes over this.

We begin to hold back speaking anything that might be controversial. And, while it's important to know when to keep quiet, as "experts" like Patrick Lencioni, Robert Quinn, Susan Scott have pointed out, it can't be good for any organization when it's people keep quiet. I love the "A managed conversation is a failed conversation" that Susan Scott shares.

In fact, one of my favorite quotes from Chris Argryis makes this point about organizations:
Experience shows that organizations have the most difficulty at learning when the problems are difficult and embarrassing or threatening precisely when they need learning most. An organizational defense is a policy, practice, or action that prevents the participants (at any level of the organization) from experiencing embarrassment, or threat, and, at the same time prevents them from discovering the causes of the embarrassment or threat.
One of the primary organizational defenses in place is keeping people in line, controlling what they say or do and limiting it to banal comments that tell us nothing about the real struggles people face. Folks keep their mouths shut because it ensures they stay employed...but the organization loses more than it bargains for.

Social media has obviously had an impact on this. As I shared in a presentation at the Texas Chief Technology Officers' Conference this past Summer (wow, it's almost been a year!):

Bud "The Teacher" Hunt shares this quote (read the blog entry for more on that) from Stefana Broadbent's TED Talk:

...there are new, hidden tensions that are actually happening between people and institutions -- institutions that are the institutions that people inhabit in their daily life: schools, hospitals, workplaces, factories, offices, etc. And something that I see happening is something that I would like to call a sort of "democratization of intimacy."
And what do I mean by that? I mean that what people are doing is, in fact, they are sort of, with their communication channels, they are breaking an imposed isolation that these institutions are imposing on them.

What a powerful quote this is from the talk. As I sat at TechFiesta 2010 Conference in San Antonio, Tx watching one of the presenters--Molly Valdez--shares a video segment about students and social networking tools, the video commentator made the point that children are more of the children shared she was MORE herself online. For some of the folks in the audience watching the video, there was a general gasp of disapproval. Yet, as I reflect on my own experience, I do find that quote from a sixteen year old girl, accurate.

Accurate because, as you spend more and more of your time online, you use writing in its myriad forms to share what you are thinking, to instantly respond and connect with others. This is a recursive process...we are constantly writing, sharing, considering feedback from the audience that is out there, and then revising. Dr. Liz Stephens refers to this kind of writing--and if I've interpreted the frame incorrectly, please don't hesitate to let me know--as responsive writing. That is, when a writer shares what s/he has initially drafted with others.

The writing process or the frames of writing that we use in preparing content can mean that we are more in touch with what we imagine reality to be. In truth, we are in touch with the reading audience, but that audience may be someone other than who we interact with...that's why it is so important to align ourselves to the various "audiences" we interact with, constantly connecting and sharing what we are saying to one audience to another.

I am often taken to task by colleagues on Facebook. "You're always on message!" That's their way of saying to me, "Wow, you always seem to write about work-related stuff." That's not always true, but the fact is, everything we put out there is part of one message about who we are.

Who we are, though, has often been pushed aside as being irrelevant to the work we are about. This has resulted in organizations that are artificial, inhuman and impersonal. As pointed out in the initial quote, people are re-discovering their voice, realizing they need not merely be a cog in the machine...and that they have the freedom to "an imposed isolation that these institutions" were imposing on them.

Digital storytelling a la Joe Lambert approach involves breaking past this impersonal writing, storytelling, getting back to real people sharing who they are. You can't do that if you have to maintain a facade.

For me, I'm grateful to be rediscovering my voice as a writer, embracing the yin and yang of the experience.
Favorite Quotes:

  • The human voice is the bearer of the human spirit. To still it would be, in effect, to still is through language that the individual creates and knows his reality, and it is the human voice that projects that reality into the void. (Jerome Bruner)
  • The dominant coalition in an organization is seldom interested in making deep change. Culture change starts with personal change. We become agents by first altering our own maps. The process returns us to the power of one and the requirement of aligning and empowering oneself before successfully changing the organization. People must empower themselves.  (Robert Quinn)
  • Leader's responsibility is to create conditions that promote authorship. (Bolman and Deal)

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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure


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