OUCH! Interaction Model – Gesture and Response

20151104_145213The last two posts have looked at the left and right loops of the interaction model below. This post jumps a little deeper into the actual interaction itself and focuses on the gesture and response part of the model.


Gesture and Response

A lot of the background and foundation for the gesture and response part of the interaction model is the work of George Herbert Mead.

Interaction Model

The gesture represents some kind of action (very often verbal in organizations, but may be written or otherwise) that someone makes to other(s). The response is an action that occurs as a result of that gesture. Mead used the term ‘conversation of gestures’ to illustrate verbal interaction between people. Another very important point Mead made about this was that the gesture does not have meaning until the response occurs.

Most of our models of leadership in organizations do their very best to ignore the words in bold above.

Interestingly as I was writing this post I received an email announcing a conference and the conference will have a focus on the work of Mead. In the announcement was a quote from a book that I really like and it seems to make sense to just add that quote in here in terms of a little deeper understanding  of the gesture and response part of the model.

What Mead is proposing is a different way of thinking about everyday social interaction, not as observers of experience but rather as participants in experience, the nature of which is self-organising sense-making. He is drawing attention to what we are doing every day in all our actions and arguing that we have developed the habit of ignoring it. How could this be possible? How could we become so blind to something so obvious? Mead’s argument is quite simply that we have developed the habit of regarding the present as something apart from the future and the past. It has become a habit of thought for us to think ourselves as also being apart from our experience as the present movement of time.’ 

The book is The Emergence of Leadership: Linking Self-Organization and Ethics  by Douglas Griffin.

The gesture and response part of the interaction model represents the dynamics of interaction, firmly rooted in the present. What the quote above is saying is that we seem to ignore the importance of our day to day, minute to minute interactions. While this may sound a little extreme I think it is quite accurate.

In organizations we have largely transferred the importance of our interactions to the formal processes of those organizations. Things like performance management programs, budgeting, strategy meetings, role descriptions, high potential programs and pretty much every formalized program and process we have designed to make our organizations ‘run’.

Most organization theory and formal practice make one small change to the gesture and response diagram above. They remove the arrowhead that points to the left.

Removing that little arrowhead facing left has HUGE implications, HUGE!

Have you ever sat in a meeting developing a vision statement and spent hours and hours (sometimes even days) wordsmithing it? It’s because the arrowhead facing left is being ignored, both within the group doing the work, and the way that group thinks about those outside of the group. When the arrowhead facing left is removed it means the gesture is assumed to be so ‘perfect’ that the response from others is predictable and uniform.

Again, we’ll be digging deeper into this as we move along here with real examples of formal practice where this left facing arrowhead is ignored.

In the first post the comment was made:

We want certainty in our organizations, and we want individuals with power to deliver this certainty.

The interaction model as a whole illustrates the process of our actual experience in organizations. The comment above does not. This means the formal processes we use in organizations and which are founded on typical organization theory alter, change, ignore, work against or refute the model above.

And it’s really hard work to do that!

Work that you and I do that when it comes right down to it does more to create blame, guilt and shame than add any other kind of value to our organizational lives.

Perhaps that can be changed.

So let’s jump into looking at some of the formal processes we work with in organizations and put them under a really critical light.

Discussion and comment points for this post:

  1. When the left pointing arrow head is removed the diagram would represent the common sender / receiver model of communication. When have you seen the sender / receiver model of communication break down?
  2. Do you agree that we have transferred the importance of our interactions to the formal processes in our organizations?
  3. What is the blame, guilt and shame situation like in your organization?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: