conversation is an engine

A lot can happen in a conversation

What does fresh hope sound like for cynical colleagues? (How to Talk #3)

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A credible word spoken boldly

Constant cynicism is a downward spiral that saps energy, like the dome light on all night—little by little wasting energy for no reason. Eventually the car will not start. Have a conversation with a cynic and the world looks a shade or two darker.

Offering fresh hope to a cynical colleague is not about squatting at the other end of the emotional spectrum, babbling like a Pollyanna. That is quickly seen as fanciful.



Fresh hope is a word of the moment that is credible and believable. A word about where we are going or what we are doing that becomes meaningful. If not meaningful right now, meaningful later. Fresh hope has a way of stopping the cynic, if only momentarily. But even the cynic finds herself meditating on a word spoken yesterday or the day before. The cynic happily shoots down the platitude, but his trigger-finger falters at a contextual insight from a conscious person processing a shared experience.

Fresh hope requires a bit of courage. Cynicism and general world-weariness is always in style.

But hope? Not so much.

But what’s the point of conversation if not to speak up boldly about what is important?


Dumb sketch: Kirk Livingston

Libero: Football Dancing

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Maybe I can dance after all.

Oh. Wait. I don’t play the (so-called) football either.


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Written by kirkistan

March 26, 2015 at 8:35 am

Dubious Conversation Skills: Skepticism and Fault-Finding

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Pivot Your Conversation on Some Fresh Hope

One dubious skill I learned early in corporate life was that skeptics and fault-finders earn respect at a conference table. If you are not presenting the idea (and thus less invested in making it work), you’ll win experience-points with others by blowing holes in whatever the group is discussing. Finding fault won’t cost you much and could win you a more exalted place in the world of that organization. Plus: you need know next-to-nothing about the idea or context to find some loose thread to pull and hope for collapse.

Please walk this way

Please walk this way

Yesterday I sat around a conference table with a group of skilled, opinionated, driven people who had a brand new idea. All around the table were invested because they had been working different parts of the idea for some time. The hero directing the conversation skillfully wove a bit of verbal fabric above us by hinting at how these disparate work groups were—quite possibly—creating some brand new category. I’ll not be more specific because of non-disclosure agreements, but what was remarkable to me was the intent of the verbal dreaming and the way it resonated with a group that could have been contentious.

Yesterday’s meeting reminded me that fresh hope is a disarming thing to bring to a group of seasoned people.


By the way, my book ListenTalk: Is Conversation an Act of God? is moving through the publisher’s proofreading department toward an actual physical presence. Chapter 2, “Intent Changes How We Act Together” highlights the work of the late University of Chicago rhetorician, Wayne Booth, who showed three different ways our intentions derail conversations. He ended up developing a way of talking that could unite conversation partners—much like the hero in my story above. You can put your name on a list [here] to be notified when the book is available.

Randomized, double-blind studies indicate that people who put their name on that list live happier, more thoughtful lives. I just made that up. But you can–and probably should–put your name on that list.


Image credit: Kirk Livingston

The Academy of Cliche (Canadian Film Festival)

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“If I can’t see it coming, I already don’t like it.”

Many of us have studied here far too long.


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Written by kirkistan

March 24, 2015 at 7:26 am

Plot with a View

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Humans: Industrious. Resilient. Fragile.



Every once in a while I am reminded.


Dumb Sketch: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

March 23, 2015 at 7:36 am

Seeing may be the trickiest part of drawing

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Instinct and childhood definitions make poor interpreters of everyday life

Take this dumb sketch (Exhibit A). I made it while sitting in the lobby at the Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis. Those green trees? Utter fiction. Apart from a few pine trees, there is very little green in Minnesota right now. Green won’t even think about appearing for weeks.


Exhibit A

Yet here we have green trees. I threw a dash of green there because trees are green. Except they weren’t green. They were brown. And scratchy and barren-looking. I commented to a drawing friend that my instinct said “green” from long use of my childhood definition of “tree.” And that slap of green was on before I even thought about it.

The gap between seeing and responding is the troublesome bit. If instinct drives my seeing, I miss pylons and electrical wires and gasoline tank farms and wireless telephone towers. All that industrial accretion I’ve seen one million times—all of it invisible. Even though it is really odd-looking stuff, jutting up into the sky at bizarre angles, like nothing in nature.

I don’t see people too: the clerk behind the counter. The janitor with the broom there, off to the side. I try to become practiced at not seeing the homeless man with his cardboard blessing at the end of the ramp. But that never works.

Mrs. Kirkistan and I volunteer at the Children’s Theater Company. It is simple duty: handing out programs. I was surprised this time by how invisible I became to children. Despite being squarely in their way so they must actively move around me to get into the theater. And when I verbally offer them a program, they twitch, suddenly surprised to see a human directly in front of them.

It’s not that I’m diminutive (I’m not). It’s because the entrance to the theater is awesome, like nothing a kid sees anywhere else. Walking through those double-doors into the dark red cavern with hundreds of seats stretching down and up into space and very strange objects akimbo on the stage—it’s hard for anyone to look away. All of that is purposeful on the part of the theater and adds to the experience.

It’s odd being invisible. And that makes me wonder how many people I miss in the course of ordinary life, simply because I have acted on instinct rather than actually believing the data from my eyes.

Instinct and childhood definitions are poor interpreters of everyday life.


Dumb Sketch: Kirk Livingston

How to talk with someone who rarely finishes a….

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You know what I mean


A: Are you one of those people who never finishes a….

B: Sentence? No.

A: Because sometimes I get near the end of a….

B: Sentence?

A: No. A thought. I just assume the other person, you, in this case already knows the word that comes….

B: Next?

A: Yeah. And I figure, “Why bother reaching for that last….”

B: Word?

A: Exactly. I’m just ready to move….

B: On?

A: No. Forward. I want to keep the conversation….

B: Going?

A: Well, more like moving forward. To some definitive….

B: End?

A: Some conclusion. Some well-developed notion. Something that has passed between us that we can agree with or….

B: Disagree with?

A: I’m just ready for the next ….

B: Big thing? Me too.

A: Yeah. I hate those people who go so painfully….

B: Slow?

A: Yeah. Those people who labor over every word, especially when you already know what they’ll….

B: Say?

A: Well, more what they are thinking. So you just sit waiting for the next….

B: Word? But you never really know how someone else will finish a….

A: [–]

A: Yes?

B: Sentence.

B: People can surprise you.


Image credit: Kirk Livingston


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