‘No relation without communication’ and ‘no relation, no information’ said Gary the course leader strictly. Today a communication course called ‘conversation techniques’ was planned. It was strange to have to follow a course in something I had been doing for a long time, or even tried to do as a baby. Courses come and go, but on arrival at my new employer I was overloaded with ‘knowledge trajectories’.
‘How does the organization work, how do you communicate and what kind of person are you?’ were the questions that I had to answer in the first four months. I answered the questions by going on a course and staying in a room where I would sit all day, something that made me slightly claustrophobic. The other people who had to take the course were sitting behind the tables like sheep. The highlight among all the imaginary cases were the peppermint rolls. The course always started with a round of introductions, where I had to tell my learning objectives and wishes to someone else, who then introduced me. That is also how I had accidentally introduced my colleague with unintended comic effect:
‘He wants to learn how it won’t come across as if he pushes too many files down someone’s throat.’ As I said it, I felt the gap between us widen further. I also learned that it is a beginner’s mistake to explain in detail what my learning goals really were. There would always be an attentive colleague who would remind me of my so-called goal for the next few weeks. The course leader responded to every announced learning goal with a zen-like:
‘Keep it concrete, small and authentic’, ‘Today is a nice day to look at that’ or ‘Beautiful, beautifully formulated.’ We were also asked during our introduction round:
‘What we would have liked to become if we didn’t have this job?’. Almost the entire group named all kinds of jobs that had nothing to do with our profession. What was worse, these were dream jobs. The things that everyone had wanted to do as a child, they actually still wanted to do. These were professions such as veterinarian, history teacher, reporter, train driver and festival programmer. I felt bad about this situation until a very dull and grubby-looking boy said he wanted to be a sexologist. Sometimes things in life were disappointing for an individual, but the larger group of people was better off.
In the break a girl named Kirstin came to me. During the introduction round, I had told that I was from Amsterdam, and Kirstin wanted to go there, so she asked me for travel advice during the break. After a while, the course resumed, and Gary started asking us all kinds of questions, including:
‘What is communication?’ We were then expected to have an appropriate answer, but Gary’s own definition was so specific that no one could guess it, every answer was wrong. Gary visibly enjoyed his temporary superiority.
‘Communication is transmitting a message between the sender and the receiver, who also change places’ he said with a smug grin. Then he wrote the text on a poster, and stuck it somewhere in the room, next to one of his many other flip-overs. That was communication too, hanging up many posters. He frequently used abbreviations. Gary also said things like:
‘Leave opinions, judgments and assumptions at home.’ When asked what we should do with that wisdom when we went to work at home, I received no answer. Then we played the ‘feedback game’, in which we gave feedback to our colleagues in fictional scenarios in a sympathetic way. For example, we would have to say that their dog barked too loudly, or that they were not allowed to park their large Range Rover in front of our door, or that they were smelly.
Towards the end of the course we threw a colored ball around a circle, as they would do in an AA clinic. When I received the ball, I was supposed to say what I had learned that day. It was useful to use words like: “processes, competencies, field of forces, the devil’s triangle, and re-thinking.” At the end of the course, Gary asked:
‘Do you have a conversation in prospect?’ To which I would have wanted to answer:
‘Tonight with my neighbor Sarah when we eat tapas’, but I swallowed the words.