That we are in a collective and unprecedented liminal experience is pretty much beyond debate. We are also now at a point where we can see the return to something like normalcy being dangled tantalizingly before us, somewhere in the near-distant future. The question is where we want to go from here. The pandemic is a universally experienced imposition of reality where none of us had control. Emerging from the pandemic, however, is an entirely different proposition. We have choice. We have opportunity. We have agency. But what do we do with it?
Acting with intention is an interesting notion. Intention—our ability to choose our response and act upon it—is our unique gift as human beings. We don’t just react, but can instead choose to act. The challenge is that we don’t always do so, and there are several ways that we undermine our ability to act and to exercise the agency that we theoretically enjoy. Understanding what compromises our intention, and knowing how to overcome those impulses, is essential to being able to take the steps that we most value.
We know people are messy and awkward. We recognize that decisions aren’t as rational as they should be. We know things are not always as they seem. It begs the question: just how are we supposed to make it through all of this, get things done, and stay sane in the process? The good news is that there are things to which out for, and processes to follow, all of which add up to somewhat of a recipe for navigating the complex world of organizational politics.
There are untold levels of interpretation and perspective that shape our meaning, interactions and experiences. Making sense of these levels is the challenge. Understanding the dimensions that are at work, why they exist, and the nuances they bring to what is being said, how it is being said and what remains unsaid is fundamental. The good news is that there is structure at play that can help to uncover undercurrents, build meaning and provide perspective. The secret lies in knowing where to look.
Things are not always as they seem. While this is true enough, it belies a complexity of interaction and meaning that makes up the whole messy, awkward and complicated way that we communicate and collaborate as human beings. We use levels of meaning to obfuscate and deceive. But we also use them to find freedom and agency. Once we understand that, we open up a whole different perspective on power, play and opportunity.
I wrote about liminality a couple of years ago, as a framework for thinking about change and transition. I was in my own period of in-between at the time, and it writing it has helpful for me, and arguably resonated for many others. The thing about liminal transitions is that typically it’s personal or organizational. Today, it is societal. We are all going through the same transition, together, at the same time. That can be a bit daunting.