Peter Wehner’s April 15 NYT article on the Quiet Power of Humility is humbling—in a good way.
While Wehner uses religion to speak to humility, his points easily translate to organizational and communication culture. He suggests being secure enough to shift your view based on latest information and changed circumstances. This is the foundation of collaborative communication: refrain from assumption, ask questions, gather information, confirm your understanding and do it using collaborative language.
We live in an adversarial world. The omnipresence of conflict, both physical and verbal, greatly influences us. We have become accusatory, using verbal bullets to assassinate other’s character and beliefs. It’s modeled by leaders, celebrities and people across social media and seeps in as a default behavior (think “monkey see, monkey do”). Wehner advocates seeking greater understanding of the “objective truth” rather than confirming what we assume or believe as truth. It’s about learning rather than winning.
Veer away from indictment and move into authentically curious, respectful questioning. Use your words. This line of communication is courageous, contagious and infectious. I am banking on the fact that it has viral potential—starting right now with me and you.
Certainty can be a devil. Instead, be an agent of inquiry toward understanding others as they see the situation and themselves. Humility and respectful word choice are the confidence to not be all knowing. When I gave myself permission to not know everything, I finally relaxed and confidence and humility filled the freed-up space. Like yoga, collaborative communication is personified humility and a process that challenges you into perpetuity. We never master it because our primitive brains override. To counter our wiring, we need to intentionally lean away from extreme and be non-judgmental.
I’ve been obsessing about collaborative communication for twenty years, and I’m still only decent at it. I teach to remind myself and others to aspire to humility versus winning.