Communicating Well As a Group

by Siobhan Soraghan

Diversity and dialogue

William Isaacs (1999) refers to the many influences on the context and conditions surrounding and infusing any group that conducts dialogue as being held in a ‘field’. The field can be thought of as an energetic all encompassing matrix which will be unique to each organisation and each subculture in an organisation – and to each group. It is influenced by a mix of extrinsic and intrinsic elements.

The extrinsic elements influencing the field are things that everyone experiences to some extent in the world around them: for example, national culture, regional and/or ethnic identity, world and local events, the local community and family environment.

The intrinsic elements are those that each individual brings with them – their own inner ‘field’, if you will. This is composed of their hopes, fears, attitudes, beliefs, assumptions, preferences, stories, experiences, background, identity, creativity and so on. Whether we are aware of them or not, all of these act as filters on our world. This means that

a) We see only some of what is there

b) What we do see is not necessarily how others see it.

Put several people in a room together and there can be countless assumptions and conclusions flying around, both spoken and unspoken, about the issues surrounding the topic at hand. Problems arise when people are unaware that theirs is not the only reality and that their reality is not just incomplete, but possibly distorted as well. Once we accept that each of us has just partial and imperfect perceptions, we then begin to realise the fabulous opportunity that dialogue offers us for enriching our sense of the world and our ability to navigate through it.

When one’s own perceptions, attitudes and experience are brought into communion with that of others in a group, a collective ‘field’ is gradually created, forming the context/backdrop/atmosphere in which dialogue among that group takes place.

Gender differences

It’s now official – it seems that there are differences in how men and women think and process what goes on in their worlds. And this affects how they come together and interact in groups.

Three specific physical brain differences have been observed: structure, blood flow and chemistry. There are behavioural differences too, though arguably these may derive to some extent from social conditioning rather than solely inherent differences.

It seems that women bond emotionally to individuals, whereas men bond to whole systems. In meetings, women are better at multi-tasking and verbal processing, whereas men function better when physically involved and focused on a single task. The female brain deals with conflict by wanting to verbalise. On the other hand, males in conflict want to engage the whole body. Men enjoy ‘public talk’ whereas women in general tend to prefer intimate talk with small numbers or one-on-one speaking within a group.  Men in our culture tend to hold forth on views (more a discussion mode). Women, on the other hand, tend to support, agree and acknowledge – which can be very helpful for dialoguing sensitive, complex subjects.

Synergy from diversity

So, given all the above, we can safely say that one person’s reality is not the same as another’s. In any group, there is an almost unfathomable amount of diversity present, however homogenous it may appear on the surface. The exciting thing about such diversity is that, if we listen to each other, there is huge opportunity for us to stretch, to see beyond our conditioning. As each individual’s field touches, interacts, merges and enriches with that of others, a shared field is built, with an increasing potential for powerful synergy.