Shift #5: Communications: From command to conversation

In his classic study of 1992, anthropologist Alan Fiske pointed out that three elementary social relationships dominate human relationships in all cultures: social norms, authority ranking, and market pricing.

The challenge for managers today is that in trying to elicit the energies, imagination, and creativity of their workers, they need to communicate predominantly through the language of social norms, against a history in organizations of relationships dominated by hiearchy and to a lesser extent by market pricing.

The tensions among these three domains are significant. The hard, sharp edges of money-based discussions or the sneer of cold command can slice through the warm, convivial world of social norms like a knife and kill it on the spot.

To be operative, social norms have to be front and center at all times in the relationship. That’s because social norms are allergic to communications that smell of hierarchy or market pricing . Studies show that the mere mention of money or pulling rank is enough to kill the warmth and conviviality of a social relationship. Even thinking about money is enough to make people less willing to help others.

Consequently management in the 21st Century requires a shift in the mode of communication from command to conversation, with adult-­‐to-­‐adult interactions, human being to human being, using stories, metaphors and open-­‐ended questions. Authentic leadership storytelling has an important role to play, particularly in dealing with social media.The type of communication is discussed in Open Leadership, The Dragonfly Effect, and The Leader’s Guide to Radical Management.