We go to school, where we learn arithmetic, reading and writing and lots of other good stuff. We rarely learn how stuff works between people, let alone how to cooperate with other humans. If we’re lucky, this might happen in a project at university as a by-product.

However, one of the key levers to success for any organisation is the extent to which teams are able to communicate effectively and understand their own dynamics. Being able to (self)assess this is important.

Dr. David Kantor is originally a psychotherapist who as early as in the late 1950s pioneered a systemic approach to psychotherapy. In addition to that, on a federal grant, he recorded every single interaction in 30 American families during the course of six weeks. He subsequently coded these interactions with a bunch of Ph.D. students and this has yielded us a common language that provides a way to describe human behaviour and characteristics on four levels.

What makes it unique is that it is observable so you can name it when you see it in others, as can others when they see you do something. At some time, he came to the realisation that teams in organisations quite often resemble dysfunctional families, so he decided to spend the rest of his career also working in this domain. This is where met, clicked and became friends.

There are 4 levels that play a role when people communicate. The higher the stakes in a given situation, the more layers of your personality come into play.

If you look at this from a slightly more Jungian perspective, you could say that everyone has a light and a shadow side to their personalities. Dependant on the situation, people will react to what happens lightly or more from their shadowy side. A highly determining influence is the extent to which someone feels that the situation is “high stakes” for him or her. Having a cup of coffee with your mom in the mall (if you don’t have big issues left between you): pretty low stakes. Having an argument with your life partner: pretty high stakes. A dysfunctional relationship with your boss: high stakes too. The higher the stakes, the more levels come into play. On both sides, or in all people, if you are in a group.

Before all other levels, we are where your personal story starts, your core, if you will. It can be captured in two stories: a Story of Perfect Love and a Story of Imperfect Love, in roughly seven billion highly personal varieties. They will have started when you were a child, where in the first five to seven years of your life you will hopefully have experienced bliss, almost as though the world just existed and unfolded for you. You will inevitably also have been bitterly disappointed a first time, or several times. This is your Story of Imperfect Love.

Level 1 is the Action domain. People Move, Follow, Oppose and Bystand. One of the most interesting levels is Level 2, Language. You thought you spoke English. You do. But you also speak in Power, Affect or Meaning. This is one of the core reasons why people often exclaim things like: “Am I not speaking English or something?!? You are just soooo not getting it!” Level 3 is your Operating System. You either do things in an Open, Closed or a Random way. Level 4: out of your core, you develop a sort of heroic mode. You become a Fixer, a Survivor or a Protector.

Because as in any game, the higher you get, the harder it becomes, we’ll start to work with Level 1 after this introduction tomorrow.


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