Openness is Good Management

Not long ago I enjoyed a lecture given by Psychologist, Richard Farson. In his talk he critiqued the very concept of management training. He targeted the idea that management, which is mostly interpersonal relationship, can be accomplished through technique. An example he offered was the practice of using “verbal templates” for effective communication. For instance the technique of buffering negative feedback with a positive opening.

“You did a great job on the project, but I have received some negative feedback regarding your management style.”

Farson’s observation was that such a rote, patterned communication eventually conditions recipients to cringe when receiving any kind of acknowledgement. He went on to remind us that learning and using communication “technique,” often instills cynicism in all players of the scripted drama. A studied approach becomes manipulation, a miss-use of power that inadvertently destroys respect and credibility, diminishing impact. It’s clear that when we’ve effectively “tricked” someone it’s difficult not to indulge a feeling of superiority. We lose respect for them and something within us craves to be held accountable. However, Farson didn’t leave us hanging without hope. He sighted authenticity and openness as the most powerful qualities a manager can aspire to.

After years of coaching communication in organizations, I appreciate the value of verbal templates and models for communication. They hold a place in making us more comfortable in difficult situations and serve as calibrated tools for greater influence. Indeed influence yields power, a goal of using management technique. Yet, I have witnessed the misuse of verbal templates as manipulation as well as their effective use when rooted in authentic openness.

I agree that the most powerful element in communication is an expressed commitment to openness. When backed with a sense of tough and tenacious love (a willingness to anchor interactions in exchange and possibility) even verbal formulas hold pith.

Challengingly, openness is an elusive quality. In a recent workshop I was asked if openness meant never saying “No.” My answer was, “No.” Openness includes saying “No” when “No” is said with respect and the intention to remain encouraging of an individual, not necessarily an idea or an action.

Openness is a spiritual quality in that it grows from self-examination and introspection. Most religions strive to teach it. It is a scientific quality in that it is verified through experimentation and validated through the tangible results it produces in communication.

Openness is a foundation stone of what we call “character,” and a depth of character resonates as a formidable source for influence. It is an energy most of us can feel, often in a first impression – surely over time. Although it can be learned or striven for, openness remains elusive because it transcends technique. It demands a fresh intention and a sense of surrender with each expression. It must be felt.

Where pat techniques and a shallow utilization hold the potential to evoke cynicism, personal practices that are rooted in the intention to strengthen relationship and deepen truth in communication hold the potential to generate real power and increase business productivity.

Read: Management of the Absurd, by Richard Farson -Touchstone, 1997

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