Gardening Authentic Engagement: Improving Communication Skills Through Systems Knowledge
After the 30th International Human Science Research Conference in Oxford, England, wrapped in late July, I made a brief stop in London before returning to the U.S.
My lecture and workshop at the conference had been steeped in metaphor linked to English gardens and I thought it appropriate to make a brief visit to Kensington Gardens. I plopped my attaché and garment bag in the narrowest of bedrooms at the hotel, one of several that line the streets abutting Kensington Gardens in central London, and went for a stroll.
While plodding along the park’s main path I noticed a young boy—seemingly from the Middle East—kicking a soccer ball while his parents chatted on a park bench and played with a younger child, who may have been the boy's sister. With a gentle watchful eye from Dad, the boy darted across the main path of Kensington Gardens. As I neared and the sun dropped from the sky quickly, the ball popped from the inside shoe of the boy and into some shrubbery buffering the main pond. I—in my suite and bow tie—dashed over and, in my own boyhood manner, pulled the ball out of the shrubs and kicked it back to the boy. The boy and I exchanged a glance and some words before beginning to play soccer in the park across the path. Each pass was fun and I moved a bit easier with each strike. Eventually (and reluctantly), I had to move on—night was now falling. The boy’s father mouthed “thank you”; his smile approved of my exchange and engagement with his son. The man's appreciation felt good.
The boy’s chuckles and his father's approval helped me realize that the notion of story and dialogue during threshold moments is directly related to our daily lived experiences—whether in a park playing soccer or in an organization exchanging and creating ideas in a conference room or hallway. During threshold moments, we leave our “self” and show another that we are being human.
Why are organizations so seemingly uninspired to allow for exchanges in our natural states and with spontaneity? Why don’t corporate executives feel inspired to relate to a new person? Is rigidity and structure critical to organizational life or is a lack of effectiveness in promoting cultures of creativity, collaboration, and authentic engagement to blame?
Being conscious of threshold experiences is critical to being human.
So why are leaders blind to helping persons embrace their identity at work when workplaces that are full of happy people create more attractive cultures?
The answer's simple: Because it's actually not easy to story or dialogue in a relatable manner at work.
The phenomenon of successful threshold storying is challenging, but can happen as techniques are embedded in our work environments to help us. As human beings, when we connect the plotlines of our lives together, we form compelling micro-narratives so that our pasts, current states, and future selves—personal and professional—are accepted and honored as we move into a new organization, work relationship, or team environment. After all, improvising is fun but if we are rehearsing and learning on the spot, well, it sure shows. But, is that part of the problems as well?
Let’s work at helping one another story and become more dialogical and inter-play oriented as we live our work lives, and, just maybe, onlookers will smile with a dash of delight in their eyes—just like the boy’s father did—validating that we can be human after all.