One of the big buzzwords for this decade is “Openness.” As the Nineties speed to their close and The Millennium beckons, I wonder how much we’ve really instilled this quality into the behavior of our organizations or most importantly ourselves. After all, “Organizations don’t change, individuals do.”
Some might ask “Just what is openness anyway, and why would we want it?” Peter Senge is one of the first business leaders who proposed it, and he defined it this way: “Éopenness emerges when two or more individuals become willing to suspend their certainty in each other’s presence.” I infer a willingness to offer encouragement and look for possibility. A reason for wanting it is that most people excel in an atmosphere of openness. Synergy (another buzzword) happens when people experience creative freedom coupled with interpersonal connection. As a result companies learn, change and profit.
I wonder how well we’ve done in achieving openness because in my communication work with organizations and individuals, I frequently uncover a need to coach openness. Executives, managers, and associates still suffer from a lack of understanding of what it is and how to do it. I discover the lack in their complaints about working relationships and communication. Although the word may look nice in your vision statement, achieving openness requires considerable self-reflection and rigorous self-correction. I believe the foundation of that work is discovering the experiential difference between “to judge” and “to discern.”
I define judging as seeing others or myself as, good / bad, right / wrong, worthy / unworthy, or as making any final mental decision that results in exclusion or separation. The dictionary definition includes “to condemn.” Condemnation creates a disconnection from energy and relationship, which severs the intangible flow of synergy. Possibility ends when you exclude someone from your energy/power.
Discerning by comparison is simply defined as “to perceive.” Perception is a powerful faculty that suggests the quality of awareness and implies inclusion and connection. It allows for the exploration of possibility. Actively choosing the openness of discernment empowers your ability to communicate by maintaining an energetic interpersonal connection.
Some people challenge my discussion of judging with the phrase “Use your good judgment.” They are attached to the word and want to preserve the expediency of its root. In the dictionary, judgment is described as the mental ability to distinguish two things, discern, or skillfully decide. Good stuff, however it continues on to refer to the “final “condemnation of mankind.” To save semantic confusion I like to stick with the word discernment. Highly productive decisions are reached through openness and the qualities inherent in discernment.
Unfortunately, it seems we’re basically hard wired to judge. We can’t, not-do it. Yet, have you ever seen a quarterback make a glorious interception and then run with the ball to the opponent’s goal post? Unconscious judgment yields similar results. It’s best after you catch that ball to expand your awareness to notice where you are and where you want to go. We can make a distinction between trusting what we perceive, know, or see, and allowing the information to limit understanding and produce condemnation. We can catch ourselves judging, hold the perception loosely and move into a discerning exploration.
Simply put this means – don’t pigeonhole, don’t jump to conclusions, don’t labor to prove you’re “right,” and don’t use how things have always been done as your strongest reference. Do – drop your concepts of people, consider possibilities, search diligently for what might work best for all concerned, and do “Be here now” (Ram Dass) to “Embrace the New” (Tom Peters). Peter Senge also states that the basic intention to love increases openness tremendously.
Many of my clients have found it helpful to develop a physical distinction of openness. To learn how it feels. We work together to build an awareness of sensing energy in communication, the subtle flow of emotion, thought or mood. Some consider this a sixth sense where information is gleaned from elemental levels of the five senses and includes subtle distinctions of vocal tone, facial expression, body language, etc. Others make the leap to realities described by quantum physics, psychoneuroimmunology, and the cognitive theories of the new biology. They believe we can feel each other through the soup of energy between us. Either way, clients increase their ability to perceive open or blocked energy connections. The distinction is extremely applicable to authentic relationship and influential communication.
We start by exploring how their bodies feel when they describe themselves as open, or closed. Openness might be described as feeling a flow from the heart or gut. I describe my own feeling of closed as a steel corrugated door rolled down over my heart. Once we determine where they feel it and how it feels, we experiment with how to shift to openness. I press the button and roll the door up.
Techniques for shifting come from a variety of disciplines. Sports Medicine, Brain/Mind Science, Meditation, Hypnosis, Applied Kineseology, Neurolinguistics, Psychology, Spirituality and Religion, all offer pragmatic, often credibly researched methods for transformation. Clients simply make the experiment and choose what works for them. Any of the practices will increase one’s awareness, perceptive abilities, and skill for discernment and openness.
The New Biology and Body Centered Therapy both teach that people learn best when information is processed through the body. Cognition happens when we actually “do” something, or physically experience a change. Let’s be sure to translate the good intentions of business trends and buzzwords into reality through a personal expression of effective action. It is through conscious, responsible exchange with the environment that entire species evolve and good, profitable, or spiritual visions are realized.