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I’ve recently come to see the impact of deepening understanding on strategy, culture, performance, and connection. Thus, I will introduce the term mutual understanding for exploration.
Even with research, it is challenging to find a way of grokking this concept. It is usually described in cognitive or conceptual ways or, in some cases, through philosophical or deep communications models.
What if we could expand such a human possibility with practices and tools to appreciate multiple perspectives and shared stories that give meaning to our lives?
Mutual understanding stems from a deep interest in others and a radical openness that honors what arises as witnessed and appreciated to cultivate new levels of awareness. The outcome is a greater appreciation of the “in-betweenness” of self and others, such that we begin dissolving boundaries.
I locate mutual understanding in our human experience beyond our cognitive or conceptual notions of individual understanding.
Given the nature of connectivity, differences, and multiple perspectives, I believe that cultivating mutual understanding will soon be in demand. To begin, I will outline a pathway that involves three stages of development, viewed here as three mindsets: cognitive self (X), affective self (XY), and embodied self (XYZ).
- X = Our cognitive self clarifies our thoughts and perceptions with logic to reason objective evidence and knowledge. We discern circumstances and concepts for developing a grounded understanding.
- X+Y = With our cognitive self (X), we add context, emotions, and experiences to develop our affective self (Y) for creating a shared understanding.
- X+Y+Z = We become intentional (X) and cultivate radical openness (Y) to receive multiple perspectives. We develop our embodied self (Z) for cultivating mutual understanding.
We identify this developmental pathway from grounded understanding, to shared understanding, and finally, to mutual understanding.
A Fuller View
Grounded understanding (X)
This stage of understanding begins with our cognitive self. Here, we achieve a norm-content view to become effective at discerning circumstances.
- We develop a grounded understanding to define facts, beliefs, and evidence. We gain an intentional and objective view of reality to dissolve “magical thinking” and clarify any misunderstanding.
- With reason, we clarify our focus on observing and analyzing our circumstances accurately to conceptualize and manage events.
- By knowing the rules and norms, we define shared agreements and establishing boundaries to manage events and our self.
The work at this level is fundamental for developing a disciplined focus to discern facts and question evidence. This level of grounding shapes what’s possible as the next stage. We arrive at a grounded understanding when we can manage content and navigate conditions efficiently and effectively.
Shared understanding (XY)
At this second stage, we increase awareness of our affective self. Here, we achieve an action-reflective view to enhance self-expression.
- We include our experiences and develop emotional courage and intelligence to express our voice and values for relating to others.
- We add context by reflecting on shared knowledge and interests (as in SIGs or resource groups), perspectives, and experiences.
- Shared understanding emerges from questioning assumptions and expectations within a larger context.
This level relies on the previous stage (X) to enhance how we relate to common norms, shared agreements, priorities, and practices. We tune into a shared vision or larger context and communicate it to others. We arrive at a shared understanding when we can anticipate and coordinate action effectively with others, often from a deeper relatedness.
Mutual understanding (XYZ)
- This stage develops a shared language (thoughts/meaning) that reveals our worldviews (perspectives, ideologies, attitudes, etc.) for learning together. This can involve exploring blind spots in shared spaces such as affinity groups and circles.
- We cultivate a radical openness, not as a passive state but as an intentional presence to reveal our interconnectedness, “in-betweenness,” or communion.
- This stage requires dancing with elements from a grounded understanding to be fully present (X) and shared understanding to be fully related (XY), to be with the possibility and meaning that arises (XYZ).
Mutual understanding creates shared meaning for discovering together.
We all have our own “sacred stories” that organize our focus and give purpose and meaning to our lives. Discovering these stories offers us a view of what it means to be human together with multiple views and experiences from common humanity. We arrive at a mutual understanding with others when we can tune into deeper meaning (cultural, ideological, perspectival) to discern context or open possibility.
While deep and complex, we achieve this through a pathway of practice, training, and development. (See “stages” in GRID A and “development” in GRID B below.)