In any work group it is important to realize that every act of each person reflects our pioneering of an ethic that comes to reflect the culture of the ongoing workplace.  How we treat each other, how we feel we are being treated, affects the direction of our work and our organization and deeply affects our individual view of working with our colleagues inside of and outside of our organization.  Each time we communicate with each other we create a negative or positive thread in our collaborative work.  Thus this paper combines issues of personal sharing, with colleagues communicating within a group, and as a group.

There are basic principles for ethical communication at any level:

  1. Personal agendas are valid.  Secret agendas are anti-group and not valid.  Dishonesty/secrecy of purpose creates dishonest, unethical communication.
  1. Invalidating another person is an unethical means of advocating a point of view.
  1. Seeking power over group direction is blocking the voices of others, and is non-consensual in intent and outcome.
  1. It is the group’s responsibility to make sure that no colleague is alone, though she/he may hold a singular viewpoint.
  1. Empowerment of each member is the responsibility of each member.
  1. Persons have a right to information that affects them.  
  1. Each member has an obligation to get/be/stay clear with each other member; each person owes it to each other person to do that clearing with her/him, not by speaking it out with others.
  1. The purpose of each individual’s communication within a group is to work toward agreement, not to shape decisions in her/his own image.
  1. There are times when it is valid for members to agree that what is said in the room stays in the room.  It is fair for the group and its members to demand that some things be spoken about only as a group, in the group.
  1. Colleagues know and or notice when there is conflict, pain or mistrust between or among us.  There is a long-time accepted process that ignores feelings in doing business.  It is person-sensitive and pioneering to seek a way that acknowledges and validates each person as part of our work.
  1. Every personal relationship between members of a group affects the group and therefore may be personal, but not always private.
  1. THE MEANS IS THE END.

TO EXPLORE:

 

  1. Personal agendas are valid.  Secret agendas are anti-group and not valid.  Dishonesty and secrecy of purpose creates dishonest and unethical communication.

The purpose of communication is to reveal and share your thoughts, plans, and feelings with others.  Among colleagues we must fight against clouding our clear impacts by using communication to gain power OVER each other.  We invalidate our commitment to ethical communication processes with secrecy, dishonesty, and discrediting.  Members of oppressed groups are often the victims of twisted words, hidden meanings that say one thing while producing another.  As advocates and activists one of our powers is to TRANSFORM; it is beneath us to seek power OVER.  We have the space to move forward to experience creation of an ethical and progressive way within our groups.  A step on the way would be to state, as we give our views on an issue – “my agenda is to see X outcome” or  “this discussion touches upon an overall direction I would like to see us take” or “my reason for not wanting X person to take or be given this responsibility is that I feel her/his region/viewpoint/class has too much influence already.”  An example might be a certain small group giving us a strong example – perhaps requesting time history of their work while representing certain demands.  They would come clear, speak early and plainly and gave their demands over to the group for decision.  The element for learning is that they reveal their intentions, their feelings, and their plans.  A more standard and expected way would be to wait, lobby, deal, and align, to use stalking horses.  This may be considered the  appropriate strategy for dealing with the traditionally run system, program, organization or institution. For us to follow this traditional but unfeeling path only means that we remain uncaring and unethical with one another.

It is the nature of secret agendas that some members in the decision making process have more information than others.  No true group decision can be reached if one segment of members manipulates, misinforms, under-informs another. Each person feels and knows that a secret agenda is being played out.  And decisions made under those circumstances will never hold.  It will become part of the history of warring, old wounds, inexplicable factionalizing later.  It will be overturned, block movement, obstruct progress and or create hostility so great and wearying that old and new members alike leave in turmoil and disgust.  I am not describing the event of members leaving because they cannot support the decision, but of those who will or must leave because they cannot support a dishonest process.

  1. Invalidating another person is an unethical means of advocating a point of view.

There is a deep and devious process open to all of us, that of quietly undermining a person’s being or acting and thereby invalidating her/his point of view.  We have all been taught how to do this by the examples of decision making/politics we have watched, learned, been taught and experienced.  Every person knows of her/his passions, beliefs, and creativity being rendered silly, of being discounted.  If we follow this way, we again become traditionally and effectively patriarchal in our process, and a power-over process dominated group.

  1. Seeking power over group direction is blocking the voices of others and is non-consensual in intent as well as in outcome.

A tool of power in communication that is often used is to block or harass the expressions of others.  This can be done by seizing on a fragment of the issue and making it central to discussion thus deflecting the attempts of others to express their thoughts on the body issue, by inciting feelings through rhetoric, by using techniques to invalidate or manipulate or “one-up” the person  (I’m sure we could all expand this list).  When opposing views are not allowed a full airing, or at least a complete concise expression and then a decision is reached, it will again create the kind of lack of long term support for the outcome described in #1.  It is simply true that persons who feel that they were not allowed input will have no investment in upholding the decision and may in fact, feel they have the right to undermine the group, or the individual they see as having blocked, obstructed, misled, manipulated or harassed them.  Energy must be spent in insuring that individuals know that while the group has chosen another course, they were listened to.  It is also critical to note that when one of us blocks or harasses another into silence the group operates without full information.

  1. It is the group’s responsibility to make sure that no person is alone, though she/he may hold a singular viewpoint.

When a person speaks her/his views, it is critical to remember that by the nature of our group’s representation guidelines, she/he is one of us.

She/he alone may hold that view, but by allowing her/him to be or feel isolated we invalidate her/him (see#2).  More important than the content of her view or ours, is the content of our behavior.  I have seen people isolated by their view; I have seen a group member move to sit by her/him, a group member seek her/him out for after work social times, such as meals or drinks, a group member verbally support her/him by acknowledging and noticing that she/he has the courage to be in different stance or relationship with the rest of the group.  Each of us has the responsibility to reach out to the member with the solitary or unpopular view.

  1. Empowerment of each member is the responsibility of each other member.

This is done by what I call “noticing.”  Noticing is the act of being consciously aware of currents and movements in the beings around you and can occur with or without their presence.  In this context it means that each person is responsible for the group process.  Noticing is a fundamental skill in communication and a part of many of the things discussed in this paper.  An example: noticing a) who is not speaking, b) who has made several attempts and not been heard, c) who has been cut off.  It is common nature in any kind of meeting for persons to be more absorbed in formulating their own thoughts and getting a chance to express themselves rather than putting attention into easing the way for someone else to participate.  Yet in our work we must remember that empowerment is a principle that we cannot leave back at our programs; we need to extend this right to each other, to recognize that we are not each equally verbal nor equally aggressive in group speaking.  If we do not concentrate on living the principle of empowerment with each other, as a consequence we will wind up in a competitive rather than communal or communicative stance.  We can avoid this by noticing and then sometimes letting go of our members to speak and instead asking the opinion /view of another, or redirecting the attention back to a person who has been trying to speak.  The value to our work is that it will effectively affirm the communal nature of our thinking, doing and being; it will create an action of sharing and caring and actualize the belief in the validity of each member’s contribution.  Concentration by every member on the importance of each person’s views begins to create a trust and safety that automatically disperses disagreement and dissatisfaction with the group product.  No one chair can monitor this function completely; the benefits can only be experienced if it is a group and individual commitment.

  1. Persons have a right to information that affects them.

The obvious meaning deals with issues of factual information.  “I feel your work on the committee has been very effective”… “Our program is going after X grant”…”I don’t have time to do that job.”  The process of imparting more complex information, or highly charged information becomes more central than the statements.  There are only two ways I know to avoid holding within yourself information about another persona and that is to see to it that she/he receives it from the person(s) imparting it to you, or that you tell her/him yourself.

This is one of the most critical processes in breaking down the old dominantly taught habit that we are separate and in competition and cannot trust each other.  Each of us know people who leave us feeling angry and opposite, people we “judge” to be devious, or blatant, or dominant-identified, or stardom hungry, or nonproductive, or incompetent, use your own words.  The common habit is to put out our feelings to another person (s) usually someone who we feel will sympathize with us, or even will agree with our “judgement.”  There is a point of validity in seeking out another person to talk over our feelings with; it is not to find sympathy or agreement!  It is to gain perspective.  When you are honestly seeking perspective the person you seek out to explore your feelings with will often be very different than if you wish only comfort or allegiance.

This may be the first clue for you as to what your intent/motive is.  One gift we can give each other, the choice and integrity we can create, is to respond to a discussion of an absent person in the following way: “I will listen if you are using me as a sounding board, with the understanding that the next person you discuss this with is the person with whom you have the concern or conflict.  If you cannot agree to that, then you need to know that I will not hold what you say in confidence.”   We can recognize that the difficulties in confronting another person are strong, often more than we are willing to give energy to.  We must also recognize that if a person is not willing, that none of us have the right to discuss the criticism privately.  That we have the obligation to identify to the communicating person their responsibility to the absent person, the right of that person to know what has been or is being said.  Participating in discussing or criticizing another person and aiding in keeping her/him ignorant of the feelings about or against her/him is keeping her/him in bondage, by withholding critical information, it is being decided that she/he will not have choices, it is deciding for her what she will use, how she will respond, whether it is “good” or “bad” for her to know, that she will react in a way that may endanger some goal, that she has the power to punish the speaker, that she cannot “take it,” it presumes the worst, whatever the excuse is.

We as close colleagues and allies cannot afford to continue to deny other people honest feedback, the right to make decisions based upon real interpersonal information, to avoid feedback on our judgments and feelings, to create through secret discussions, allegiances against other.  It weakens us, dissolves our progress, and degrades our work and the lessons we would teach others about survival and empowerment.

  1. Each member has an obligation to get, be,  and stay clear with each other member; each person owes it to each other person to do that clearing with her/him, not by speaking it out with others.

If we agree that we will not participate or listen to one person about another except that she/he go next to that person we must also agree to a process that will support and give safety and strength to those who have that courage.  One way is this: if you have twice been moved to speak about your problems with another person in private with someone else, then you must know that the time has come to act and clear.

Ask the person to make a space when you can share some uninterrupted time.  Know that she/he may resist, she may be afraid of what you will say, she may not think time with you is important enough to her.  Since it is your integrity you are seeking to live out, insist.  If appointments are broken, tell her you will ask a third person’s intervention, or take it to the group and the choice can be hers.  If you have been able to meet privately, remember the basis guidelines of confrontation and adhere to them.


GUIDELINES FOR CONFRONTATION

Confrontation is loving, in that it is an act of commitment to yourself and to the belief in giving energy to getting clear with another person.

Confrontation is not a one shot act, it is not hit and run.  You must be prepared to be there to work it through.  If not completed in the first meeting, then by standing by for further sharing.

Confrontation is not dumping.  Speaking is not the end.  Getting it off your chest is not the goal.  The goal is growth of understanding.  Dumping and trashing is vengeful and hurtful.

Confrontation must be done with respect for the person you are touching.

Confrontation is sharing, touching and struggling with another person.

Confrontation can be gentle.  It must BE DONE WITH HONESTY.

If the efforts of you and the other person cannot reach understanding, resolution, or create clearness, ask to have a facilitated meeting.  We are not all equally skilled in expressing our feelings or in hearing another’s, or in problem-solving when we are in conflict with another.  One’s integrity is not measured by one’s skills.

Choose a person with whom you both feel comfortable, whose objectiveness is trusted by both.  If a facilitated meeting(s) is not productive, if the problems still remain severe and feel blocking to the goals of the group, either person has the right to take the issue to the group.  This can only be done after telling the other person that you have chosen this.  It is foolish to believe that any conflict of personality or ideology is private business.  No organism can be fully effective if parts of it are in serious, ongoing discord.  The process is not infallible.  It is the commitment to getting, being and staying clear that gives life and health, and which reflects courageous pioneering.

  1. The purpose of each individual’s communication within a group is to work toward agreement, not to shape decisions in her own image.

It often becomes difficult to remember that our work is of and for survivors and victims who are not present, not for the expansion of a sole ideology.  We bring widely varying experiences and understandings of how things are, based on extremely diverse backgrounds.  It must be clear to each of us that the group has life of its own, its own growing to do, its own experiences and history to contend with.  There are natural rhythms to the evolution of a group.  We are responsible for exerting our views and guidance on that growth, but it is providing choices and information from a given perspective.  There may be ways our life has not shown us all that will be discovered by a group of individuals with diverse perspectives, experiences, knowledge and skills.  Being together in a group is before all else a learning way.

  1. There are times when it is valid for members to agree that what is said in the room stays in the room.  It is fair for the group and its members to demand that some things be spoken about only as a group, in the group.

It is a common practice for members of a group to spend time out of the “room” together and to go over their perceptions and feelings of what is going on.  It is very difficult to do this without at times discussing the words or actions of persons not present for the “debriefing.”  As a rule, such open-ended times can be constructive, given attention to those things discussed in #1, #6, and #7.  I am speaking to those times that the group deals, as a group, with interpersonal issues among its members.  It is a habit to not speak fully on painful or angry subjects, waiting instead until afterwards to be with those who think as you do.

For a group to allow this means much of the time given over to “feelings” is wasted.  It also blocks communication from members who would speak, but know what they say will be dissected out of their presence, rather than confronted within the support and respect of all the members (and empowerment work cannot be done in any other context), then it must also build in safeguards for the sharing of those feelings, and for individuals who choose to come to the group for help in resolving conflicts.

A safeguard is to, at specific times, seek commitment from each member to keep what is being said within the full group.  This means no minutes, it also means that members who are not present can be informed of context, “we discussed the feeling some people have that decisions are made before meetings by a power clique,” but not in terms of content; not who said what, did what.

The only time issues can be explored out of the presence of the full group is when a person wishes to speak with another about her individual sharing, not to include or refer to the sharing of any other person but to share more or seek clarification between the two of them.  “I heard you say that you always felt left out.  I’d like to talk about what I may have done, and learn more about how you have been feeling….”  To discuss another person’s rage, tears, confrontation or self-exposure outside of her presence is to denigrate her courage, is unethical communication in the extreme.  It assumes that her presence is not central to the communication being discussed, even though it was her communication originally.

  1. We know and notice when there is conflict, pain or mistrust between or among members.  There is a patriarchal process that ignores feelings in doing business.  It is sensitive, progressive and caring to seek a way that acknowledges and validates our colleagues as part of our work.

Let us get clear that we know what is going on in our groups.  We may not know the content, but let’s own that we do know, deeply so, when there is conflict, pain, mistrust, alliances, a sense of pre-planned decisions.  By not acknowledging this to each other, we maintain complicity in allowing members to be hurting, angry, isolated and invalidated.  We each bear the responsibility of speaking; naming what is going on.  It does not always have to be dealt with.  

The group may decide other business must have priority, but when it goes unnamed, unnoticed, we are guilty of ignoring, confusing, and  mystifying our own process, our own goals, and our own blood’s work.  We join the dominant traditions in pretending individuals and their being, needs, feelings and responses do not exist.  And our anger will turn on us and overthrow our work.

  1. Every personal relationship between members of a group affects the group and therefore may be personal, but not always private.

This is to recognize that personal relationships often provide affiliations of thought and influence.  Bonding with one another is legitimate power.  Each person is responsible for keeping it so (as opposed to lobbying, false friendliness, etc.).   We each must pay attention to forming power blocks among ourselves.  To find agreement creates power, the group has the right to notice that power, to monitor it, and to call the individuals on it if other members begin to feel it is being wielded in unethical ways.

Another time personal interactions fall within the province of the group is when they are issues of conflict.  We have all experienced the predictable and continual disagreement between group members, relationships based upon sniping and depreciating, regardless of subject.  The group has a right to notice and to verbalize  concerns with that behavior.  Lastly, as outlined in the process discussed in #6 and #7, the group may be asked to mediate or otherwise assist with interpersonal issues that those involved cannot resolve.

  1. THE MEANS IS THE END.

How we do our work will determine the product, how it will instruct and teach, how long it lives, and what, if any, value it will have to those we serve, and to us.

Revised from original by Kit Evans, 1980 (Edited for typos, mistakes, updating and applicability to  groups that are not all female) RG, 2/2012, revised 9/2014