8. Conscious Communication

Research shows that the content of communication (words and data) represents only a small percentage of the meaning of communication (less than 10%). The vast majority of the perceived meaning of any experience is derived from what we can call context (the situation, the circumstances, timing, nonverbal cues, assumptions, and interpretations). Think of content as the small tip of an iceberg that is visible, while context is represented by the larger mass hidden beneath the surface. While people tend to be aware of the content of communication, most remain unaware of the context. They create meaning based on unconscious assumptions and interpretations about the context.  In fact, most people wouldn’t even know what to look for if they wanted to peer beneath the surface (the “text”) to understand the “subtext” that determines how communication is being interpreted (its meaning).

Conscious communication is fundamentally about awareness, perspective, and choice.

All effective interpersonal communication starts with awareness. What dimensions and dynamics (especially about the context/subtext) are you aware of?  This ties back to the previous section on the Integral Framework—the AQAL framework gives practitioners visibility into numerous dimensions frequently overlooked or ignored. Next, the person who is able to consider a topic from numerous diverse perspectives is able to construct a more accurate picture (and assessment) of the situation than the majority of people who are trapped in a singular vantage point. The English language is filled with words and phrases like viewpoint, outlook, angle, stance, “the way I see it,” and so on. All of these point to perspective as a key to understanding people and communicating with them effectively. Naturally, having a familiarity with the four fundamental worldviews (mindsets) helps us strengthen our perspective-taking ability and comfort with these wildly divergent viewpoints. Obviously, the more things you are aware of, and the more perspectives you can account for in a given situation, the more comprehensive and accurate your answers will be to the first and second set of integral leadership metaquestions: “What’s really happening here?” and “What’s important and what’s needed?” Conscious communication is also fundamentally about choice. Most people are unaware of the nuances of communication and tend to gravitate toward a singular communication style that reflects habitual and unconscious speaking and listening behaviors. By increasing their versatility with all the major modes modes of communication, integral leaders are far better equipped to consciously choose the most helpful way to respond to a given situation. This versatility is crucial when it comes to answering our third integral leadership metaquestion, “What’s the most helpful action I can take in this situation?”

Conscious Communication Basic Principles

Intent vs. Impact

Organizational life is rife with misunderstandings, missed opportunities, mistakes, and conflict. Many of these issues result from confusing a person’s communication intent with the actual impact. Understanding the dynamic process that occurs from intent (which happens before the communication) through impact (which happens after the communication) can significantly enhance a leader’s ability to motivate and influence effectively.

An analogy is helpful here. The illustration on the right shows an archer shooting arrows at a target. Each component in this illustration represents a different aspect of the communication process.

Intent—The archer represents communication intent. He intends to communicate meaning to another person (or group).

Message—Unfortunately, intentions (thoughts) cannot be transferred directly from one mind to another. The communicator must use words and symbols (signifiers and syntax discussed in the previous section) to convey a message as skillfully as he is able that will closely approximate his intended meaning. The arrow represents the message, or what is actually said.

The Impact—The target represents the impact of the message on the receiver—in other words, how the message is heard and interpreted (the signified and semantics from previous section). In the unlikely case that the receiver hears and interprets the message exactly as the sender intended it, then the metaphorical target has been hit in the center of the bull’s-eye. Of course, this rarely happens. In the illustration, the archer’s arrows are hitting the outer rings of the target indicating that the person receiving the message is interpreting it differently than the sender intended.

Why is there so often a difference between intent and impact? Bearing in mind all of the distinctions introduced in the previous sections of this manifesto, I would suggest that leader-follower communication often misses the mark for two fundamental reasons: 1) the “sender” lacks the skills to articulate a message that precisely reflects his or her thoughts, or 2) the “receiver” hears/understands the message differently than the sender intended due to subjective interpretive filters (that the sender has failed to adequately adjust for). The conscious communication practices introduced in this section (and described more fully in the book) can dramatically increase a leader’s ability to hit the center of the metaphorical target. How? By understanding people’s primary meaning making framework (Understanding People section), by recognizing the subjective process of interpretation, and by developing awareness and skills that allow leaders to accommodate others filters and adjust communication accordingly.


I first used the term “mindsets” to refer to worldviews in the Understanding People section. Mindsets are subjective filters than dramatically influence how any communication message will be perceived and interpreted. In addition to worldviews, the term mindset can be used in a more broad sense. A person’s communication mindset can refer to his or her orientation and attitude about communication itself (e.g. tends over-communicate or under-communicate, or tends to avoid conflict or engage it unnecessarily). The term mindset can also refer to one’s orientation toward learning or feedback. In the book we introduce two such mindsets that we refer to as “Knower” and “Learner” (drawing inspiration from Stanford’s Carol Dweck and MIT’s Fred Kofman).1 In short, people who approach communication with a Knower mindset want to demonstrate their superior knowledge. Preoccupied with preserving the appearance of competence, Knowers often have difficulty receiving feedback, considering alternative perspectives, or admitting that they might be wrong. Clearly, closed-mindedness to certain ideas or alternative points of view can be expected when communicating with someone with this mindset. By contrast, people who approach communication with a Learner mindset tend to be open to feedback and willing to consider alternative perspectives. In this case, you might expect to engage in a more open, learning-oriented dialogue and explore various points of view on the topic of discussion. Some people approach communication with the intent to complain (what we call a “Victim” mindset) or, rather, to criticize (a “Persecutor” mindset). Others may approach the same situation with an intention to improve things (a “Creator” mindset) or to encourage another person to raise his standards (a “Challenger” mindset).2 Other mindsets include a person’s attitude toward a subject, her value system, or her worldview. These are just a few examples of mindsets that conscious communicators can take into account. Clearly, if you can identify these and other “mindsets,” you have a much better idea of what to expect from the interaction and some important clues about how to best inform or influence them.


As mentioned above, the context of the communication can be thought of as the 90% of the iceberg that lies beneath the surface of communication. In most interactions this subtext is implicit, not explicit. When speakers do not make the subtext explicit, listeners often fail to understand the purpose of the conversation, misinterpret the speaker’s intentions, or misunderstand the intended meaning of the message. This subtext can also be referred to as the “frame of reference” or “frame” for short. Framing is perhaps the most fundamental skill of conscious communicators. According to integral communication theorist and Boston College professor Bill Torbert, framing is the element of communication most often missed from conversations and meetings. “The [speaker] too often assumes the others know and share the overall objective,” Torbert says. “Explicit framing is useful precisely because the assumption of a shared frame is frequently untrue.”3 When speakers assume a shared understanding of the subtext and fail to frame the communication, listeners have to guess where they are coming from or what point they are driving toward. When forced to guess at a frame, people frequently guess wrong. Too often, the guessing takes a negative slant: For example: “Why is he bringing this up now? He must not trust me.” Or “What is he getting at? Is he implying that I did something wrong?” Without a clear frame, it is easy to assume that others have negative or manipulative motives. Integral leaders frame as a deliberate practice that promotes clarity, prevents confusion, and, most importantly, aligns intent with impact. They use framing to address relevancy, state purpose and intentions, expose assumptions, and check for agreement. Most importantly, integral leaders frame communication so that it is understandable by and resonant with a given person’s mindset.

In addition to framing their own messages, integral leaders pay close attention to other people’s frames. Rather than accept others’ frames blindly or unconsciously, integral leaders accurately recognize and evaluate others people’s frames. In fact, integral leaders tend to be far more aware of others’ frames than they are. This is because most people’s frames are unconscious, especially the fundamental assumptions inherent in their worldview (described in the Understanding People section). When we communicate unconsciously without being aware of, clarifying, and/or fully understanding other people’s frame, we often inadvertently accept the frame. Have you ever been in the middle of a conversation and thought, “He thinks I agree with him. I don’t even agree with his basic assumption—but he seems to think that I do!” Integral leaders look and listen for the the explicit and implicit framesa and actively inquire into other people’s frames and bring them into full view with clarifying questions and proactively offering their own frames (and checking for agreement).

Distinguishing Between Facts and Interpretations

The practice of distinguishing between facts and perceptions is informed by and closely connected to the concepts first-introduced in the Gift and Curse of Interpretation section, especially the Ladder of Inference which provides a model for the process people use to interpret information and draw conclusions. To practice conscious communication, you must have visibility into your own, and others, meaning making. Perhaps the most fundamental skill in this regard is to be able to accurately distinguish—in your own and others communication—facts from interpretations. Upon first read, this may seem obvious to you. However, let me remind you that the vast majority of people (including leaders) communicate unconsciously. In fact, most people do not distinguish facts from interpretations. In practice, the vast majority of people conflate facts with their interpretations (opinions, assumptions and beliefs). This is one of, if not the, primary reasons that communication is so often problematic in relationships and organizations. Even if you are one of the rare people who do distinguish (in your own mind and in your the speech patterns you use), unless you are already an advanced practitioner of conscious communication, it is unlikely that you have refined the skill of influencing others to distinguish between facts and interpretation. First, I will define these crucial concepts then we will explore how to put them into practice.

A fact is an objective statement of truth easily verified by third-party observation and experiences. Interpretations, by contrast, are subjective opinions, assumptions or beliefs. For example, the statement “Mark is thirty-two years old” is a factual (objective) statement about an external reality that can be easily verified. The statements “Mark is young” is based on (subjective) interpretations of the facts. Two people could easily agree that Mark is thirty-two years old, yet disagree as to whether he’s too young to be vice president of the company.

One of the main problems in unconscious communication is that people fail to distinguish—in their own minds as well as in their speech patterns—the objective facts from the subjective interpretations. This can also be described as separating observations from opinions. Everyone has a right to an opinion. Opinions are useful and helpful. However, problems can arise when people don’t acknowledge their opinions as interpretations and instead believe their opinions to be objective fact.4

In the illustration on the right, the top circle represents how people usually view a given situation. When viewing situations unconsciously, there is no distinction between facts and interpretations—these elements simply blend together. People may think and act as if their subjective view of the situation equals objective reality (what actually happened). Of course, this is rarely the case. The two bottom circles represent the situation when viewed consciously. The left circle represents what really happened (the objective facts) and the right circle represents a person’s “story” about what happened (subjective interpretations).

Unconscious communicators often interact with others from an “I’m right” stance. While facts are important, very few conversations are about getting the facts right. Most conversations, especially difficult ones, are less about the objective facts of a situation and more about subjective interpretations and feelings. In these cases, what matters most is how people feel, and what people think should be done about a given situation. Conscious communication—especially when people disagree—requires going beyond “being right” about the objective facts in an effort to explore the other person’s perspective, especially their subjective interpretations.

To most individuals, what they say makes complete sense. What’s often hard to see is that what the other person is saying also makes sense. Communication becomes difficult at those points where stories collide. It is important to remember that different stories are not the problem; the problem is usually our failure to discern facts from interpretations and respect the other person’s different yet equally valid perspective.

To practice distinguishing facts from interpretations and sincerely seek to understand other people’s perspectives, it helps to connect with the reasons that stories are so different in the first place. Stories are not random; they don’t pop up out of nowhere. We understand that we construct our stories in a systematic way, which is well-explained by the “Ladder of Inference” in the Gift and Curse of Interpretation section. As we saw, with each step up the “ladder,” there is an opportunity for different people’s stories to diverge. Communication can become difficult when people stay on the highest rung of the ladder (conclusions) without stepping down to where most of the real action is: the information and interpretations that lead each of us to those conclusions.

In Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most, Doug Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen of the Harvard Negotiation Project reveal some of the reasons that people’s stories differ so greatly.5

1. People Emphasize Different Facts—In the first place, based on different vantage points, in most cases, each person has access to different information. Even when two people have access to the exact same date, they do not pay attention to the same facts. As people move through life, the sheer amount of information they have access to is often overwhelming. We know that it is neurologically impossible to fully mentally register every sight, sound, fact, and feeling involved in even a single interaction. As we saw with the Ladder of Inference, each individual—even in the same situation with access to the same facts—will notice (and ignore) different data. As we saw in the Understanding People section, people notice things that are important to them (based on their worldview) and overlook or ignore facts that are inconsistent with that viewpoint. Also, as we discussed above, some communication mindsets pay more attention to feelings and relationships. Others pay attention to status and power or to facts and logic. Some want to prove they’re right; others want to avoid conflict or smooth it over. Some see themselves as victims, others as rescuers, challengers, or coaches. The information people notice and pay attention to varies accordingly.

2. People Interpret Facts Differently—“What are the relevant facts that should be focused on?” is one question. But even if two people select and emphasize the exact same set of facts, they will usually interpret those facts quite differently. That’s the second reason people’s stories tend to diverge: Each person has a different way of subjectively interpreting what the objective facts mean. Unfortunately, many people actually believe that the way they see things is how things are. This is rarely, if ever, true, because each individual’s perspective is influenced by a unique set of past experiences. To make matters worse, most people are unaware of how their past experiences and current worldview affect their interpretation of events and the conclusions they drawn as a result of those interpretations.

3. People’s Conclusions Reflect Self-Interest—The final reason that people’s stories are so different is that personal biases nearly always influence interpretations and conclusions (whether one is aware of this influence or not). The biggest bias of all is the all-too-natural bias toward one’s own interests, priorities, and values. Individuals tend to notice information that supports their own views and then interpret that information more favorably. This leads them to feel even more certain that their view is “the right view.” Again, it is important to emphasize that this influence happens automatically and unconsciously—it is difficult or impossible to avoid this bias. What is possible is to become aware of it, notice it, and make adjustments in thinking and communication to adequately accommodate for it.

This tendency to develop unconsciously biased perceptions is common and can be dangerous when people are unaware or won’t admit that it is occurring. Conscious communication calls for a dose of humility about the “rightness” of one’s story, especially when something important is at stake.  Again, the fact that different people have different stories is not a problem. The key is to develop conscious communication skills to work with these inevitable differences. In the Integral Leadership Program and in the book I elaborate on three practices for working with stories: 1) be curious about other perspectives, 2) expose your thinking, and 3) invite other viewpoints and test your assumptions.

Admittedly, it can be difficult to stay curious about another person’s story when you have your own story to tell, especially if you believe that only one story can be right.

“Who’s right?” is the wrong question to be asking in the first place.

“Both/And” Thinking

Your interpretation of the situation is so different from theirs, and your interpretation makes so much sense, right? While this may come more naturally to some than others (largely based on their cognitive complexity), it generally requires some mental discipline and a commitment to break old habits of “lazy thinking.” With practice, we can retrain ourselves to hold our interpretations as interpretations (and not pretend to self or others that our interpretations are facts).  This makes it a little bit easier to be open to and curious about their story (their subjective interpretation of the situation).  Both your interpretation is valid, and the other person’s interpretation is valid (at least from a subjective perspective). Both interpretations deserve to be considered. If you think in terms of either they must be right or you must be right it puts both people in a position of defensiveness and argumentativeness, and the debate mode of communication ensues.6

Rather than choosing between the stories, embrace both your story and their story. A hallmark of both/and thinking is this ability to “hold” two perspectives simultaneously. This suggestion to embrace both stories can sound counterintuitive at first. It might be misinterpreted as, “Pretend that both of the stories are right.” But you don’t have to pretend anything or accept the other person’s story as true. Just focus on understanding the other person’s subjective interpretation. Understanding someone else’s interpretation of the facts doesn’t require you to give up your own interpretation. Both/And thinking allows you to assert the full strength of your views without having to diminish the views of someone else. Because you may have different information and different interpretations, both stories can make sense at the same time. And each person’s point of view, thoughts, and feelings matter. Both/and thinking allows for one person to feel concerned, impatient, or frustrated, while the other person feels just as concerned, impatient, or frustrated. The world—and human interactions—are rarely black-and-white; therefore, people should not make the enormous mistake of limiting themselves to either/or thinking. Both/And thinking allows you to learn from other people, to expand your understanding of situations, and, as a result, make better decisions (find better solutions).7

Many misunderstandings, mistakes, and conflicts stem from a failure to make your thinking explicit. People can’t read minds, and as this module has shown, there is always much meaning beneath the surface of communication. Let others know what facts you are observing (and emphasizing), what assumptions you are making and the reasoning you are using, and how you came to the conclusions that you drew. Exposing your thinking to scrutiny demonstrates to others that you have nothing to hide, creating an atmosphere of openness and transparency. It also conveys confidence that your thinking and viewpoints are adequate to handle questions and “push back.” Example: “Michael, I’ve noticed a significant decrease in output from your department during the past three month, and it coincides with the onset of that new pet project of yours. I’m assuming that there is a correlation here, and the story I’m telling myself is that you aren’t devoting enough time to hitting your quotas. Let’s discuss.”

Once you have exposed your reasoning, the next step is to invite feedback. Check in with others. Solicit alternate perspectives. You can say, for example: “Here is how I see it, and here is how I arrived at that conclusion. How does that sound to you? Does that match your experience as well?” It is common, and only human, to have a tendency to present primarily the data that confirms your position while omitting contradictory data. Conscious communication requires you to stay open to (and even invite) disconfirming data as well as confirming data.

In the Integral Leadership Program (and in our book), we teach an integral leadership practice called “Telling ourselves stories” increases awareness of our ladder of inference—our process of selecting and emphasizing facts, making assumptions and interpretations, and drawing conclusions. It helps us to become aware of the process in others. The practice has three parts. 1. Being aware of your internal process of drawing conclusions. Practitioners remain mindful of how they are selecting and emphasizing certain facts over others, making assumptions and interpretations, and drawing conclusions. They refrain from drawing premature conclusions or taking action until they “check in” with the other parties. 2. Next, do a “Check in” with the other person anytime there is a reasonable probability of different interpretations or especially misunderstandings. To do a check-in, you first statie the facts in totally subjective terms that the other person would not disagree. Next you state your “story” (your interpretation). 3. Finally, ask the other person to share their perspective (or story) and then you listen carefully and discuss any differences openly.

Balancing Advocacy and Inquiry

Most businesspeople (and many in positions of leadership) are trained to be “advocates”—to assert a point of view, debate, and influence—in an attempt to solve problems and achieve goals. As these professionals move into senior positions and confront more complex and diverse issues, the preferencing of their own perspectives can become limiting. It’s a classic case of “What got you here won’t get you there.” In fact, the overuse of advocacy can actually become counterproductive. For example, have you ever engaged in a discussion that reached an impasse because you and the other person were simply advocating your own positions without seriously considering the other? In interactions like these—known as debates—how much learning or innovative thinking occurs? High advocacy can polarize communication with limited possible outcomes: Either person A may win, or person B may win, or both may walk away with their views unchanged.

The complement to advocacy is inquiry: asking questions with a sincere interest in other views and a willingness to be influenced by those views. As the previous sections have demonstrated, most people communicate habitually—completely unaware of the broad range of choices available to them. In many cases, the “appropriate” or “right” ways to communicate are socially defined: They have been powerfully ingrained during one’s formative years by parents, social norms, media, etc. In fact, most people use only one or two modes of communication (e.g., discussion and debate) and do not take advantage of the full range of communication modes available.

By plotting advocacy and inquiry on an x-y diagram (see illustration), various modes of communication—from debate to discussion to dialogue—can be situated in four quadrants: Telling, Observing, Asking, and Collaborating.

People with greater awareness of a situation and a variety of modes to choose from bring greater versatility to communication and can achieve significantly better results. It is important to emphasize that modes are neither good nor bad; rather, different circumstances call for different approaches to communication.

The chart to the right illustrates ten common modes of communication, many of which are very familiar to most readers. Six of the most relevant modes—each with some important nuance to consider—are summarized below.

Negotiation—This mode (high advocacy, low-to-medium inquiry) is rarely the first tool to reach for during most business-related interactions. However, in situations where conflict has been building and trust is low, this highly structured mode of communication can prove extremely effective. It requires two or more parties who are willing to compromise in order to resolve a difficult dispute. The goal of this mode of communication is a durable agreement between the parties.

Presentation—This mode (medium-to-high advocacy, low inquiry) is useful in situations where one person (or a panel) is engaged in primarily one-way communication such as giving a speech, presenting a scripted proposal, or conveying the results of a research study. This has been a dominant mode of communication in business for several decades. Conscious communicators are aware of the unilateral nature of this mode and consider additional approaches as a complement where appropriate (Q&A, asking questions of the audience, soliciting post-presentation written feedback, etc.).

Discussion—This mode (medium advocacy, medium inquiry) is useful in situations where the goal is to consider various points of view so as to lead to more informed decisions. Though it obviously involves more two-way communication than presentation, it does not assume that everyone communicates inclusively or equally: Some people dominate, while others may not speak at all. Unfortunately, the term “discussion” can be a misnomer. Many autocratic managers and leaders call for a discussion to simply hear the opposing views in order to understand ways around them. In some cases, individuals may give the impression that other perspectives are being considered when they intend to go ahead with their agendas (or ideas) regardless of how the conversation unfolds. However, when discussion is engaged with a large amount of inquiry, especially when using the guidelines provided later in this section, it can be an extremely productive communication mode.

Active Listening—Though most leaders are quick to recognize listening as an important mode of communication, research shows that few have received active listening training or demonstrated high levels of competency. Active listeners are capable of temporarily setting their agendas aside in order to understand the deeper meaning behind the speaker’s communication. Practitioners adopt a specific “active listening mindset” and leverage five unique “practices.” The active listening mindset involves: giving undivided attention (presence), listening non-judgmentally (without deciding), and avoiding listening autobiographically (needing to jump in and talk about yourself). The five teach five active listening practices include: inquiry using open-ended questions, reflection involving paraphrasing or restating, empathizing with the others feelings and experience, asking clarifying questions, and summarizing key themes before moving to another conversation topic. Active listening guards against misunderstandings, helps manage conflict, and can be used to build trust.

Dialogue—This mode (high advocacy, high inquiry) seeks to get all relevant views out into the open in order to facilitate shared understanding of the issue. Dialogue is especially useful in situations where complex and/or difficult business issues need to be considered from multiple vantage points. The main difference between discussion and dialogue is that in the latter, parties willingly set their agendas aside, suspend their interpretations and judgments, and engage active listening for the purpose of uncovering deeper issues that might otherwise not surface. Dialogue requires that both parties feel heard and understood. Because this mode is more disarming and revealing, it generally requires more trust than other modes. Larry Bossidy, former CEO and chairman of Honeywell International (a Fortune 100 firm) believes that organizations are unlikely to be able to set and achieve their goals without exploring the assumptions on which they are based, something he calls “exposing reality and acting on it.” Bossidy and many other senior executives have embraced what they call “robust dialogue” as a primary way to achieve deeper understanding of complex business issues through openness, candor, and informality. Dialogue requires people to have open minds that are not trapped by preconceptions or armed with private agendas.8 Learning and collaboration can be high when teams use this mode of communication. However, this is the mode of communication that requires the most skill—competencies often underdeveloped with many leaders, managers, and employees. Leadership theorists often point out that “dialogue” is a key to effective leader-follower relationships. Derived from the Greek dialegesthai, the original meaning of term dialogue  was to speak about something in such a way that the participants came to a new understanding or orientation. (Also known as “dialectical communication.”) Dialogue implies a reciprocal, mutually-enriching communication interaction.  As discussed in the Understanding People section, every group has a “dominant mode of discourse” and every worldview has its own “values dialect”. The more compelling a message is to any particular dialect, the less compelling it tends to be to the remaining three dialects.  In fact, since the four dialects are highly differentiated, many interpretations are mutually exclusive. Therefore, true dialogue is difficult or even impossible if you are not speaking the same dialect.

Reflective Silence—This mode (no advocacy, no inquiry) is perhaps the least used, yet one of the more powerful when used skillfully. Silence is useful because it gives people an opportunity to think about the topic without having to simultaneously follow one or more conversations. Some personality types (e.g., extroverts) think and analyze best during the heat of discussion. Other types (e.g., introverts) prefer to gather their thoughts internally and quietly before offering their concerns or ideas to the group. With a few moments of strategically placed silence, the group may be able to benefit from the ideas of the less outspoken members. Also, silence is useful because it can help to shift the focus or energetic tone of a meeting. It can serve as a bookend or segue from one phase of the conversation to another. Silence can also be used to invite conversation participants to reflect on their own assumptions, intentions, and/or interpretations. There are two kinds of reflective silence: spontaneous silence and deliberate silence. Spontaneous silence can occur anytime there is a long “pregnant pause” as people gather their thoughts (and resist the temptation to fill the uncomfortable silence). Deliberate silence occurs when a member of the group invokes it by simply asking, “Can we take sixty seconds to quietly reflect on what has been said and privately gather our thoughts before we continue our discussion?”

Conscious Communication Leadership Templates

While the above conscious communication recommendations apply to all mindsets, integral leaders use a different application of each of these skills for each of the four predominant mindsets (and in combination of course). In our Integral Leadership Program, and in the book, we offer detailed communication templates. Below are some excerpts from those templates.

Achiever Mindset

When communicating with people with a Modern worldview, use the language of “achievement” and “success.” Relate decisions (and outcomes) to increased competitive “edge.” Emphasize status and membership in an elite group.  Frame messages in terms of personal success,  status and/or recognition. When giving feedback in the form of constructive criticism, emphasize the status/reputation (or financial) implication if success is not achieved.



Pluralistic Mindset

When communicating with people with a Postmodern worldview, use story telling and dialogue to make your points and always remember to say “we” and avoid saying “I” as much as possible (and always when speaking of achievements.) Speak to their desire to make “big picture” choices while acknowledging that their decisions reflect an expression of their commitment to personal-growth, harmonious relationships, human welfare, and/or sustainability. Frame your message as your own personal experience (not objective fact). When giving constructive criticism, point to the need to learn and grow (or cultivate relationship). Challenge the person to make a difference for the greater good.


Traditional Mindset

When communicating with people with a Traditional worldview, use the language of practicality and moral certitude. Acknowledge their willingness to make personal sacrifices and explicitly and concretely show the relationship between current choices and future security and stability. (Do the right thing now for future rewards.)  “Good vs. Evil” and “Us vs. Them” frames are nearly always effective with people with this mindset. Frame messages in relation to rules, duty, authority, and tradition. Always give constructive criticism privately. When doing so, challenge the person to “do the right thing”, fulfill one’s duty to serve others, or to help a worthy cause (always defined by traditional values).

Power Mindset

When communicating with people with an Imperial worldview, use the language of hyper-independence and dominance and frame decisions in terms of their personal gain (“What’s in it for me?”). Offer bold challenges and dares, tie desired behavior to gaining clout or power, and frame in terms of getting respect from others. Always address benefits of proposed actions in unambiguous, concrete, and immediate  terms. Avoid abstract reasoning of any kind.  When giving constructive criticism, focus on short-term immediate feedback limited to task at hand.


I hope it is becoming clear how each of these integral leadership frameworks, tools and practices layers onto the previous ones to create ever-increasing levels of awareness and skill. I want to continue to emphasize one of the things that is so unique about integral leadership as compared to the myriad conventional approaches to leadership. While it is true that integral frameworks (concepts, maps, lenses) are superior to the simplistic (and sometimes naive) conceptions of psychology and interpersonal dynamics that inform conventional leadership approaches, even more importantly, integral leadership is practice based. Rather than just learn concepts about leadership, integral leaders adopt integrally-informed practices (understanding people, meaning making, conscious communication, attention management, making subject object, etc.) that, once internalized, dramatically transform what they are aware of and how they can skillfully respond to vastly diverse situations and people. Obviously you can not learn to play the guitar by reading a “guitar manifesto” or learn jiu-jitsu by reading a book on the subject. The only way to learn integral leadership is to adopt practices. This is why I waited until I had ten years (and 10,000 hours) experience teaching and coaching hundreds of integral leadership practitioners in our 52-week intensive program before I attempted to explain the practice in a book. The purpose of this manifesto is to support our mission of popularizing the practice of integral leadership.  It is my hope that after reading it you will feel inspired to adopt many of these practices and you will engage other sources of information that will help you refine your integral leadership skills.


[ Continue to the next section: Making Subject Object: Getting to the Next Level | Or Return to Table of Contents ]




  1. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Carol Dweck, 2007. Conscious Business: How to Add Value Through Values. Fred Kofman, 2006.
  2. These terms come from David Emerald’s book The Power of T.E.D. This framework has been found to be very useful by our CEOs and executives enrolled in the Integral Leadership Program.
  3. Action Inquiry: The Secret to Timely and Transforming Leadership by Bill Torbert and Associates, 2004
  4. Integral Institute colleague and Former MIT professor and organizational consultant Fred Kofman uses the terms “observations” and “opinions” to describe this crucial distinction between facts and interpretations in his book, Conscious Business: How to Build Value Through Values (2006). Highly recommended.
  5. Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most by Doug Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen (2000). Highly recommended.
  6. Either/Or thinking is one of the most reliable hallmarks of earlier stages of cognitive development (black-and-white/concrete). Similarly, Both/And thinking is one of the most reliable hallmarks of later stages of cognitive development (comfort with complexity, nuance, and paradox).
  7. Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most by Doug Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen (2000).
  8. Execution: the Discipline of Getting Things Done by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan (2002). Bossidy and Charan are strong advocates for what they call “robust dialogue.”


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