41. Be Responsible for What You Hear

This page is part of the Holacracy Habits series.

Of all the habits to change with Holacracy practice, habits of language are probably the most powerful. We not only talk about power — our speech has power. It can be power. Our words can actually create boundaries and expectations.

You could even say Holacracy practice is largely about learning a new way of speaking. A way of speaking based on getting clarity. And, usually, it’s a little more clarity than we’re accustomed to. But if everyone around you is speaking this way — it’s not that awkward. Because communication habits are self-reinforcing. Group norms tend to stay group norms. Everyone does it because, well, everyone does it.Norms at rest tend to stay at rest. But that also means they’re not easy to change. So, if it’s going to happen at all, it’ll happen because each individual takes responsibility for their involvement in both sides of the communication: what you say and what you hear.

For example, if the former “boss” demands you do something — is that bad? Shouldn’t they look at the roles? Well, sure. That’s the ideal. But everyone should have the right to have a bad day. So, actually they can make demands all day — there’s only a problem if you interpret their demands as demands, and start taking action.

This is what we mean by taking responsibility for what you hear.

Instead of just doing what they say, why not ask, “Is there a specific role of mine you're asking, or are you just asking for a favor from me personally?” Maybe there is a specific role. Maybe not. Find out.

When everyone takes individual responsibility for clarifying messages, then no one can point the finger at someone else for “not being clear.” In reality, we never reach perfect clarity.

Instead, let’s use a more reasonable criteria. How about, I’ll just do what I can to clarify what I say, AND I’ll do what I can to clarify your messages when I need to understand them. And if it makes sense to you to do the same, awesome. Now, our communication can't be broken by just a single point of failure. And if that becomes a social norm, then Holacracy practice is more than just a radical power shift. It’s better than that. It’s just the way we work together.