Talking and being silent
“Communication doesn't reveal the world, but rather divides it by creating a break between what is said and what is not said.” – Niklas Luhmann
When it comes to risks attributed to external factors or external actors, communication about these risks may be open and straightforward. These risks can be discussed and addressed openly within the organization and with its environment, with the goal of mitigating or eliminating them. However, when it comes to risks that have to do with something the system has done or failed to do itself, communication may be more difficult. These risks may be more sensitive, and speaking openly about them may be perceived as acknowledging fault or responsibility. In such cases, silence or secrecy may reflexively be used as a way to protect the organization's reputation or image. Also, when individuals sense that speaking up about their opinion may be met with disapproval, they may choose to remain silent, leading to a reinforcement of the dominant attitude.
Source: Luhmann, N., Fuchs, P. (2017), Reden und Schweigen, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.
Niklas Luhmann writes that when we communicate, we don't reveal the world, but instead, we create a divide. Communication creates a break and distinguishes what is said from what is unsaid. The more we communicate, the more boundaries we create to stabilize these distinctions. This also means that we cannot return to what existed before.
Luhmann's systems theory emphasizes the inseparability of a system and its environment. This helps us distinguish between the system and its surroundings and allows us to observe and analyze the world. However, we can never fully observe the environment; we must selectively observe it in relation to other systems.
Communication must be accepted or rejected, and any communication that doesn't seek acceptance or rejection is not allowed. This means that sometimes silence is a form of communication, and interpreting it as such serves the self-creation of communication. Sometimes people use the schema of speaking and silence normatively or commandingly, which paradoxically turns silence into a form of communication.
The world of corporate consulting may seem straightforward, with experts applying knowledge from fields like business, finance, and social psychology to help companies improve. Communication can become a major issue in this relationship. The problem is that consultants often present their ideas as certain and unchangeable (simple or at max complicated), but in reality, things may be complex. This creates what's called paradoxical communication, where difficulties arise due to the inability to communicate about the relationship itself.
Consulting firms use complex theoretical concepts, which can be hard for clients to grasp. But the difficulties don't just stop there. Communication barriers can also exist within consulting firms, as the need to maintain the firm's unity and difference from the environment can create obstacles to effective communication.
The key to improving communication in consulting is to understand that reality is observer-dependent. This means that our choice of observer will shape our understanding of what is real. For consulting firms, it's important to select experts based on their ability to identify blind spots in a system, rather than just based on their reputation.
Ultimately, better communication and relationships between systems can only happen through an increase in communication through incommunicability or differences. This idea has been recognized since the 17th century and can be used to improve communication in matters of love and religious life as well as in business consulting.