Archetypes, Biography, and Corporate Myths
By Dennis Klocek
A careful observer of human nature can see that there is a critical interface between people who are striving to reach a common understanding. The most profound space between people who are working towards understanding is the dynamic in which the speaker assumes that the listener understands what the speaker is trying to communicate and that the listener is trying to fit what is being said into their current understanding.
This may seem obvious to most, but a careful observer can always see that this profound space is the source of most misunderstandings between people. The reason for that is due to the fact that the space between the listener and the speaker is permeated with ambiguity. In reality, there are two communications happening in each exchange.
The one communication is the factual and conceptual content of what is being communicated. This is expressed in what could be called content language. When using content language misunderstandings of ambiguous content can be made less anxiety-producing by simply asking questions for clarification of a fact or misunderstood concept.
However, there is always a second communication language that is far subtler than the content language. That second language is composed of facial gestures, tone of voice, body language, colloquialisms, slang, and even technical jargon. This could be called tone language. The New Yorker cartoon is pointing at the need for the tone language to be accurate in the communication as well as the content language.
The subtle and not-so-subtle cues of tone language can act either as aids or blocks to communication. These subtle cues are a kind of social lubricant that lets the hard facts of the content language flow between people more easily. For instance, if the speaker speaks the jargon of the listener and uses the correct tone of voice to accent the jargon there is a deep positive influence on the outcome of the communication. If the speaker uses jargon that is not shared in common with the listener and uses body language or tone of voice that is also not shared with the listener then a strong negative influence is projected onto the communication by the listener. This is the outcome even when the content is factually correct.
When the speaker and the listener are engaged in problem-solving towards a common understanding the outcome often hinges on this level of tone language. In every communication, we actually hear both content and tone. Difficulties in collaboration often arise because in most communications a speaker usually assumes that the socially lubricating inferences, language, and tone of the subtle communication are understood by the listener and that they support the content. The intent of the speaker is bringing tone and content together is to ease the anxiety that is produced in a listener who is faced with the anxiety of owning a misunderstanding. Misunderstanding most often happens when the content and the tone are not harmonious for the listener. The listener is then faced with the anxiety-producing ambiguity of not understanding the communication. The listener is then forced to either admit that they don’t understand or to reject the communication of the speaker.
In the context of collaboration, it is often the tone that triggers in the listener a negative judgment of the speaker. Because of the perceived disconnect between the content and the tone, the listener is put on hyper-alert.
In the context of collaboration, it is often the tone that triggers in the listener a negative judgment of the speaker instead of a negative judgment of the content. This is because of the perceived disconnect between the content and the tone. The listener is put on hyper-alert because of the disconnect between tone and content. The results are then disastrous for collaborative efforts at problem-solving. This drama is played out countless times a day with more or less serious consequences for humanity.
The feelings of anxiety around such a disconnect are learned in a person’s family or origin. They are ingrained in people by repetitions of family values. They are difficult to deal with on the fly because the tone level of the communication is often far below the level of consciousness that is driving the meeting. As a result, the tone/content disconnect becomes particularly potent in the corporate world because of the focus on content communication as the primary tool for problem-solving. When things are going well there is no real need to address the tone of the communication because in the pragmatic nature of the business environment problems are best solved by ideas and concepts supported by clear factual content. However, when things are not going well or when a shift in mission, vision, or priorities is in the wind then the more subtle tone level of the interaction is often the reef that must be navigated to move the organization to calmer water.
Corporate biography and corporate myths
Organizations are composed of collections of individuals coming together for common work. Besides their qualities as collectives, organizations also have characteristics of individuality. One key to understanding individuality is biography. Individuals have biographies that are unique and specific. Likewise, the biography of an organization is a story that is unique to a group of individuals following a specific commonly held vision. The common vision creates a specific and unique entity in the world that persists hopefully beyond the lifetimes of the founders. This is the family of origin of the individuality of the organizational entity. The organizational entity has a task and purpose in the world and like other individualities, it also has failings and challenges it has to meet in order to grow and change as it matures. People whose task it is to help organizations that are facing challenges sometimes express the need to “exorcise” the ghosts grandfathered within the entity so that it can meet the challenges that were not present in the world context that inspired the original unique vision of the founders. It is obvious that this work is fraught with dangers and yet promises rewards.
The biography of an individual is composed of facts linked together with subtle cues and inferences. In individuals, there is a kind of tension that exists between the facts of their biography and the subtle beliefs that weave the facts together into their life story. The biography has a content side and a subtle or tonal side. These poles found in biographies of both individuals and organizations have their roots in the archetypal human relationships that have been passed on for millennia in the form of myths.
Joseph Campbell has said that myth is the expression of the organs of the body in conflict with each other. This idea is related to a concept in the work of Carl Jung that an archetype is unconscious content that is altered by becoming conscious and perceived. These two ideas point to approaches and techniques that can be used to perceive the unconscious myths that originally are placed into an organization by the unique common vision of the founders but over time become a source of conflict within a growing organization. The corporate myths stem from sets of facts woven together with subtle values that formed the founding impulse.
The values and corporate myths of the founding impulse form the initial biography of the corporate entity. This entity is an archetype, that is, it constitutes a unique individuality. As an individual, it must undergo change and maturation processes. As an archetype, it undergoes maturation in archetypal or mythic ways. That means that it must, as Jung put it, “devour its own demons”, in order to mature and grow. The demons emerge in archetypal conditions when the individuals in the growing corporate entity no longer carry the fire for the original values that formed the corporate entity. The demons manifest in muddled communications between individuals who are active in holding the vision. Some may feel that the new myths are marginalizing the old myths and vice versa. The interface for these communications is the quality of speaking and listening that is carried by the corporate culture. Bridges can certainly always be built.
Some of work we did at the Coros Institute was to enable groups to experiment with their two languages in a safe yet effective protocol composed of dyad communication exercises centered on myths as the content of the work. A series of questions are designed to lead participants to an appreciation of the differences between the two languages and to enable dyad partners to safely explore bias, tone, and anxiety around the unknown that arises when there is a disconnect between content and tone in group collaborative work. The exercises lead participants from initial levels of simple misunderstanding at the content level of the myth to more intimate misunderstanding of the tone of judgment that often accompanies questions from others about my own personal interpretation. To create a session we analyze your corporate biography and look for a myth that seems to reflect the values of the biography. That myth then serves as the starting point for conversational work. Once the elements of the myth are explored for tone and content it is a reasonable step to use the myth as a symbolic language for the issues facing the corporate entity at the current point in time. To have a symbolic language to use in business meetings allows the disconnect between the content language and the tone language to be identified and worked on by the group with much less tension and conflict than techniques that are designed to train people how to guard against personal attacks. The myths provide a common language that bridges the gaps and allows for collaboration. To paraphrase the New Yorker cartoon, everybody likes myths.
In solving problems there are different objectives. One objective could be that a manager has determined that some goal needs to be met. This decision is handed down to groups so that it can be implemented. The persons who have received the mandate to implement the goal may not have an understanding in common with those who produced the directive. There will most likely be no conversation for common understanding. Most likely the conversations of the mandated group will center around the nuts and bolts of how to implement the directive.
The true purpose of the mandate is for the group that is giving the directive to also limit the actions of the group being given the directive. This serves two purposes. The first is to allow the group giving the directive to direct the flow of the response. However, another aspect of the mandate is just as important. That is when the power to act is limited to certain parameters the mandated group is then free to act and come to decisions independent of the input of the directing group. It also prevents the directive group from micromanaging the decision-making process which is vital to the activity of the mandated group. Between and within these groups the meetings will have a different structure depending upon the phase of the work.
In the initial meeting to give the mandate, it is most likely that there is no need to come to a common understanding. This is due to the reasons given above. The directive group spells out the parameters and limitations to action and the format and time frame for responses. The mandated group asks questions but will most likely not be privy to the level of information that the directive group is using in order to put out a mandate for action. As a result, there is no problem solving towards a common understanding.
In the meetings in which the mandated group reports to the directive group there will be more of a need for working towards a common understanding because the tendency is for the mandated group to make decisions within the limitations of the mandate and unfortunately, there is a strong tendency for the directive group to criticize initiatives that arose outside of the vision of the directive group but that required independent action by the mandated group. This disparity creates a strong need for working towards a common understanding.
When things are going well and the directive group is in strong contact with the mission then the mandate process allows for the directive group to exert control over critical activities and also allows for the mandated group to feel empowered to make decisions within a limited scope of action. When contingencies arise that are either unforeseen or unprecedented, then the meetings take on a different tone and the need to work towards a common understanding between both groups becomes an important organizational task.
A corporation is unique in that it is a group organized around a common vision or mission but it has legal rights as if it were an individual. So a corporation is both an individual and a collective. This is the very definition of an archetype. An archetype in the ancient world was something like the appellation, “Diety”. From one perspective this describes a collective of many individual deities. but it also is the description of a level of existence as an individuality that separates it from, for example, human beings. That is one example but it can be taken further.
The quote from Jung used earlier was that the archetype is an unconscious content that is altered by becoming conscious and perceived. In mythic language, this is known as an avatar. A deity, Buddha, for example, has one identity as an archetype. He is a man who has attained godhood, a deity. But different devotees link emotionally to different aspects of this deity through their conscious perception of his life as a prince (Siddhartha) or as an ascetic (Gautama) or as an enlightened person (Shakyamuni), or as the embodiment of compassion (Avalokiteshvara). These are all Buddha but are the focus of special prayers, rituals, clergy, and devotees in different countries and in different ages. Buddha as an archetype of an enlightened person has avatars that are archetypal manifestations of either compassion or seeking or enlightenment depending upon the conscious perception of the devotees who have joined their souls to his mission.
A corporation has its avataric traits that are manifest in the minds of the persons who identify with that aspect of the mission. They enrich or diminish the collective archetype by adherence to specific or individual avataric archetypes that arise out of the wholeness of the collective archetype. The image of the babushka doll with one doll inside another is useful when trying to understand archetypes. Which one gets perceived and therefore modified by my perceiving consciousness is often purely a thing of chance. To realize that the goals and mission of a corporation are not mutually held by all in the same ways requires work on common understanding. To do that each person (devotee) must explore the myth of their own perceptive or cognitive bias so that emotional motifs that foster anxiety can be cleared. This is useful if the fundamentally paradoxical and ambiguous nature of the corporate entity (both an individual and collective) is to mature and grow to meet future challenges.
Dennis Klocek, MFA, is co-founder of the Coros Institute, an internationally renowned lecturer, and teacher. He is the author of nine books, including the newly released Colors of the Soul; Esoteric Physiology and also Sacred Agriculture: The Alchemy of Biodynamics. He regularly shares his alchemical, spiritual, and scientific insights at dennisklocek.com.
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