Community of Memory: It’s All In the Organization

Organizations are sometimes defined as “institutions” but a more friendly term is often used such as “family” or “community”. In fact, the main part of communicative life is found inside the walls and context of an organization (Arnett, et. al, 2009, p. 137). Within a given organization, diversity is ever-present, as many different cultures co-exist, which ultimately shapes the “organizational culture”. Within it is many intricacies and unspoken beliefs and rules. It is interesting to note that before I took a course in my undergraduate coursework called Organizational Psychology, that I did not quite understand the context of the communicative organizational life. Therefore many experiences within my early working life, were not fully understood at that time. Culture plays a significant role for instance, when individuals recognize their own culture in the midst of learning about another culture; therefore “working in a contrasting fashion and countering our cultural assumptions” (Arnett, et. al, 2009, p. 158). Furthermore, culture is the symbolic “system of a group of people that gives us interpretive clues for what something means and the significance of a given event” (Arnett, et. al, 2009, p. 158). A similar dynamic exists within an organization, just as in a culture, there is an “ongoing” story of that organization, with an opportunity to examine communication within the specific organization. The purpose of this is to distinguish what type of communication protects and promotes the organizational good (Arnett, et. al, 2009, p.139).

A personal revelation regarding “community of memory” within an organization actually came about when I changed jobs six years ago and the term culture shock would be underrating my reaction to the change of the organizational culture! Although I left a similarly structured organization that is considered a sister organization, a huge difference was in store for me. As Arnett, et. al, (2009) stated  regarding culture shock;“it introduces a disruption in how we think” and “we feel different when habits and conventions are not our own” (p. 162). That is exactly what happened to me, though the new organization was similar in operation to the one I had left, there were key activities that were done differently that threw me off and it took quite sometime to adapt to the changes. The rhetorical interruption caused weariness and even some depressive feelings that lasted for a year! As Arnett et. al, (2009), stated “we experience fatigue as we meet communicative cultural events, disrupting normative patterns” (p.162-163). From that point I felt that I was going to have to quit, that I simply could not hang with this group and I initially declared that I had made a mistake, but soon a turning point came within the next year as I came to the realization of one fact.

That fact was that I could not quit and return to the other organization because I had made a decision that was irreversible. But at that time I did not understand the implications of the intercultural communication crisis I was experiencing because I was attempting to infuse my previous culture in this new one. The whole purpose of intercultural communication ethics is to protect and promote the culture’s good, therefore the “good” that was previously protected and promoted was not relevant in this new environment. Unfortunately, it has taken about six years to fully understand that my “communications ethic responsibility” was to observe and learn what this new culture was about and leave behind everything I believed I knew regarding interacting within organizational cultural communities (Arnett, et. al, 2009, p. 164). The key was applying the “dialogic ethic” to the intercultural communication crisis in my life at that time. It it is as simple as examining the dialogic ethic “in the manner of listening, attentiveness, and negotiation”(Arnett, et. al, 2009, p. 169-170). Simply, the following keys would have smoothed out the rocky road to transition: (1) Listen without Demand, (2) Attentiveness (ground of self, other and the historical moment), (3) Dialogic negotiation, (4) Temporal dialogic ethical competence (evaluation/self reflection and going from knowledge to learning, (5) Listen to what is before communicative partners who are culturally different (Arnett, et. al, 2009, p. 170). It as a matter of changing from this is how “so-and-so organization did it” to this how the (new) organization does it. Hindsight is truly 20/20.


Arnett, R.F., J.M. Harden & Bell, L.M. (2009). Communication ethics  literacy: Dialogue and difference. Los Angeles: Sage.


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