Trust, control, power, silence

I loved Chris Corrigan’s post about Alan Watts‘ views on trust and control. Here’s a snippet:

…many societies, including traditional Chinese society and I would argue, many First Nations societies see humans as essentially good and capable and trustworthy. If you can view humans like this, then you can see a room full of people as a room full of potential, and an organization of people is one essentially capable of doing good in the world. All you have to do is trust these inherent capacities.

This control issue crops up everywhere. If humans are essentially untrustworthy then we need laws to keep the peace and agendas to keep them on topic. We need rules, regulations, measurements, standards and assessment and evaluation criteria that judge the largely untrustworthy human against the perfect ideal, in order to see how badly they failed to achieve perfection.

For the last several months, I’ve felt like opening a meeting by speaking about its potential. Not in some anodyne, “let’s have a great meeting way” but with genuine reverence. For some reason, I’ve not acted on that impulse.. yet it feels important to me.

In part, I think one reason that the real potential of meetings is not realised is that there is something scary about it. I’ve been reflecting a lot on the notion of silence in meetings. I’ve found silences increasingly powerful points in meetings I’ve been facilitating. These are often referred to as awkward silences – as if the awkwardness lies in the silence and not in the people in the room. What makes us awkward during silence? There are a few answers that come to mind, but I wonder if part of the discomfort is some half-felt sense of the great possibility of what might come to fill the silence?

I’m a big fan of Chris, and one of many things I’ve learnt from him is the notion of faciliation as a practice – something you are always practciing, never perfecting. And I’ve been practicing silence, gradually learning to be more comfortable sitting through silence. When you’re the faciliator, this can be a fun assignment, as the longer the silence, the more gazes you might find coming your way, sometimes appearing to implore you to say something. Nearly always, when I resist that urge to fill the void, someone else in the meeting – often someone who has not yet said much – finally speaks up. And what they say is often more useful and powerful than what I might have said to relieve my and/or other people’s discomfort. I think in moments like that, we may be touching on some of the deeper power we have as people working together, something that goes a little further than the mere exchange of thoughts and ideas.

4 thoughts on “Trust, control, power, silence

  1. Jack Yan

    I would say the summary about traditional Chinese society is correct, and underpins the foundation to Confucianism. Confucius advocated self-regulation and the abolition of all laws as his ideal, with each person capable of tapping into his or her goodness.

  2. Chris Corrigan


    One of the things that I’ve been practicing a lot lately is what William Isaacs calls “evoking the ideal” which is to bring attention at the beginning of a meeting to the potential of this gathering. Even mundane meetings on everyday topics have a potential at their core to have something truly amazing happen. If we can trust in that, and evoke it clearly and honestly it can sometimes set a deeper intention into the container.

  3. Anecdote

    Silencing the facilitator – looking at facilitator turn taking

    An interesting and thought provoking post by Johnnie Moore on Trust, Control, Power, Silence. I’ve been reflecting a lot on the notion of silence in meetings. I’ve found silences increasingly powerful points in meetings I’ve been facilitating. I’…

  4. Johnnie Moore


    Are the silences you are talking about is face to face during your facilitations?

    Lately I have been thinking about ’emails’ silences.

    Friends that have not written even when you write.

    These are people that have had some personal problems lately and now you feel concerns and wonder if things are ok.

    If we turn these silences of friends into silences from colleagues or employees. What would be our views of them?

    Silences when it is in the physical sense, we are aware of them very quickly. Online silences are more troublesome, and deeply serious, because generally we do not think about it until much later. Perhaps too late. Perhaps we never notice.


    Thanks for the comments. Cindy, yes I had face-to-face meetings in mind. That’s where the silence can be felt, where it is, if you will, conspicuous. It’s pregnant.

    Online silences are different, for sure.


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