CMM is the acronym for “Coordinated Management of Meaning,” a phrase that describes what we do when we communicate with each other.
As human beings, we continuously interpret what we experience, including what happens around us and to us. Call this “meaning.” These meanings are not simply “responses;” we have a limited capacity – and sometimes a powerful responsibility – to choose among potential meanings and to test and otherwise evaluate candidate interpretations. Call this “management of meaning.” And we always do this in interaction with other people. Every action that we take is, in some ways, a response to things that have happened before and, in some ways, a request or hope or insistence on what will happen in the future. We call this the “coordinated management of meaning.”
In a recent workshop, one participant jokingly described her reason for attending this way: “many of my friends are always talking about CMM and I thought I’d come today to learn what the big secret is, and perhaps learn how to perform the secret handshake.” One of the leaders of the workshop, Barnett Pearce, laughed and said, “The secret is that there is no secret! A good bit of what we do is to unlearn some unhelpful ideas about what the social world is and how it works. When we do that, then we can see what has been right in front of us all along: that we live in processes of communication, and that these processes of communication are generative; they shape us and everything else in our social worlds. And then we work together to develop some language and other concepts to help us understand and act effectively in our social worlds. ”
By taking what we call “the communication perspective,” those of us in the CMM Institute look at communication itself, seeing it as generating selves, relationships, organizations, institutions, nations, and cultures. By seeing selves, relationships, etc. as the products of the on-going and unfinished process of communication, our attention is drawn to the characteristics of communication itself.
We have found this perceptual shift revolutionary and powerful. We have generated a philosophically sophisticated theory, a respectable body of empirical research, and a diverse community of practice, including professionals such as managers, consultants, coaches, mediators, therapists, social workers, and teachers who use the underlying principles of CMM in their work.
We believe that CMM has an as-yet unfulfilled capacity to help us address the issues that confront us as persons and as a society and have set ourselves to promote the continued development of CMM and its application.