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Openness

“Communicative space tends to begin with a knot in the gut before it becomes a space in the mind.” - R. Shah




I recently read a book called Rewriting Partnerships Shah for one of my classes. While it is not your normal corporate leadership book, I found a few key takeaways that translated for my work and the corporate workspace.


  1. Radical openness

  2. Playfulness

  3. Dignity

  4. Highlighting resistance


Practicing openness or vulnerability is a practice I use often in training, coaching and facilitating. Situating the word radical with the word openness was very jaunting to me. Seeing openness through the as Shah described in the academic space, has allowed me to see the radical part of the lens I was missing in the corporate practice. Using the model of head, heart and hands showed me that I was missing the hands or the liminal space for the hands to do the work (Ganz, 2010). Putting a circle of chairs in the center of a room, or putting people at round tables to workshop does not create radical openness. Using head, heart and hands walks us step by step into the openness where radical discoveries can take place.


Shah points out how the radical openness allows for the research and voices to come from the margins, not the masses. We get caught up in corporate politics and grease the squeaky wheel. We are crunched for time and don’t stop, slow down and look for unusual voices. Often, I’m not thinking about what is marginalized in the group. I am often thinking of bias, but not the inherent built in history of that bias and how it shapes the current openness. Leaders need to look for unusual voices, unique perspectives and the people no one asks. That is truly being radical.


My attitude about this openness and the perspective of it shape the empathy and vulnerability I can execute to push to a more radical openness. Without self awareness and an examination of my attitude and the history that created it, I am unable to provide the bridge of empathy to create openness (Berardi, M.K., White, A., Winters, D., Thorn, K., Brennan, M. & Dolan, P.). As executives and leaders, we shrink away from vulnerability due to our perceptions that it creates or shows weakness.


Playfulness as a bridge to openness is not a new concept, humor can add levity to many tense situations. But seeing playfulness the way Shah described it as a playful world traveler, discovering others through the lens of playfulness. That it is an openness to surprise which is a form of playfulness (Shah, R. 2020). Using spontaneity can create connectivity in groups and relationships. Playfulness isn’t used in workplaces often because it can be perceived as juvenile, unprofessional or silly. Lighthearted mindsets and an atmosphere of play, whether it is through casual relational connection or gamification, bring more openness.


Giving dignity through the position of the margin. Examining as a leader that dignity is where the community is comfortable, not where I’m comfortable. Dignity gives the power of the liminal space to those I want to engage with, or those that I’m trying to help or need their help from. Shah also uses the word radical with dignity, which gives it a deeper meaning for me now also. To dignify someone is to elevate them higher than where I am and all the others. The space of openness must give them radical dignity to engage and feel safe.


Highlighting resistance – communicating tension. Staying committed to the tension is hard when I have the training and instinct to de-escalate and find harmony between parties. Highlighting resistance isn’t conflict. Recognizing that tension can produce harmony and highlighting what is causing it isn’t conflict. Tension can produce something beautiful. Agreeing that highlighting resistance isn’t condoning it or taking sides or provoking divisiveness. Highlighting resistance gives more dignity.



Citations:

Berardi, M.K., White, A., Winters, D., Thorn, K., Brennan, M. & Dolan, P. (2020) Rebuilding

communities with empathy. Local Development & Society. 1:1, 57-67, DOI:

10.1080/26883597.2020.1794761


Ganz, M. (2010). Leading change: Leadership, organization, and social movements. In N.

Nohria & R. Khurana (Eds.), Handbook of leadership theory and practice (pp. 527-561). Boston, MA: Harvard Business Press.


Hea, K. & Shah, R. (2016). Silent partners: developing a critical understanding of community partners in technical communication service-learning pedagogies. Technical Communication Quarterly, 25(1), 48–66. https://doi.org/10.1080/10572252.2016.1113727


Peters, M. (2013) The concept of radical openness and the new logic of the public. Educational Philosophy and Theory. 45:3, 239-242, DOI: 10.1080/00131857.2013.774521


Shah, R. (2020) Rewriting partnerships: community perspectives on community based learning. University Press of Colorado.

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