Here’s another succinct insight from Richard Farson’s Management of the Absurd:
Many supposed communication problems are actually balance-of-power problems. That is why it probably is unwise to introduce completely open communication into a situation in which there is a large disparity in power. The unintended but damaging result is to increase the power of the already powerful and reduce the power of the already powerless.
That really rings bells with me. There is no perfect answer to this issue (and Farson would absolutely agree with that) and it’s a pitfall for facilitators.
It is so easy to arrive in an organisation as the appointee of management and offer our wisdom and methods on better communication. And to feel smug about it. And later, bitter and self-righteous after our ass has been kicked by a participant we would like to call “resistant” but deep down know has at least partly rumbled us.
One partial remedy is to try to remember to think of people as volunteers and offer genuine invitations – which means that there are ways to say No despite peer and power pressure. A great example was a friend parachuted into some heated dispute by management. She held a meeting with the audience formerly known as the workers and said: this is what management say they want me to do – but is that something that you want me to do, because if not, I don’t want to take this on.