When trying to understand a culture, there will be plenty of visible things to look at, to hear and to sense. Leaders with high social skills will capture them and will try to make sense. To some extent, crucial as this is, it is the easy part. To go to the deeper layers of the culture, the underground of thoughts, the tapestry of beliefs and emotions in the hidden side, you need to hear the unsaid and the unsayable. ‘Hearing’ is the skill. It’s a sensory ability that can be developed by critical thinking and critical questioning.
I hear X,Y and Z. What is that I am not hearing? Why is that absent? Does it mean irrelevance, or, on the contrary, so relevant that it can be disturbing and that’s why it remains in the safe place of the unsaid. Is it not said perhaps because it s unsayable?
A superficial concept of ‘being open’ is often heard: ‘we’ve been very open’, often means we have been very vocal and have ventilated issues. If some were uncomfortable, the fact that they have been ‘in the open’ makes us feel full of ‘openness’ and ‘candour’. This is good in itself, but perhaps it may not go far enough, to reach the land of the unsaid and unsayable. Talkative and openness are two things.
As a good leader you could push the envelope a bit and explore the unsaid. You could have some hypothesis of the unsaid and create safe, transitory places to free them. I use short Scenario Sessions with my clients where, as scenario, we allow ourselves to imagine uncomfortable worlds in which the unsaid is given permission to be said.
If ‘what am I hearing’ and ‘how I am I heard’ are key critical leadership questions (The Leader with Seven Faces), ‘what am I not hearing’ and ‘is it possibly unsaid’, elevate the leader’s social skills to an even higher level.
There will always be some unsaid and unsayable. There will be natural defences that are healthy. Only a superficial and naïve concept of ‘openness’ will insist in completely deplete the stock of the unsaid. The question is how much, as leader, I am exercising my senses.