Archive for the ‘listentalk’ Category
Fan the Wonder
Your 2nd grade teacher showed up. The one who always said “Listen to your neighbor.” She just dropped in—several decades later—but now she’s wearing a black beret, smoking unfiltered Gauloises and sipping espresso.
Mrs. Wheeler is no longer concerned with making things simple for you. In the training for everyday life that was part of 2nd grade, listening was a critical skill. She thinks you’ve forgotten it today, based on how you treat people.
Mrs. Wheeler wants you to start seeing the people around you. And then she wants you to assign value to these others that surround you. Not just your gang. You already value them and you listen to them (more or less). It’s those others—those not in your group. The ones you barely acknowledge, let alone listen to. Mrs. Wheeler says a true interest in others means allowing those others to be themselves.
“Of course, Mrs. Wheeler,” you say. “How could it be otherwise?”
“Ah,” she says, smoke slowly drifting up.
And when people show up with words different than yours? Different language entirely? Or just a different set of words that are not the key words you watch for? What if these others wear clothes that are provocative? Or not at all stylish? What assumptions do you automatically process? And how do those assumptions affect how you listen?
“No,” says Mrs. Wheeler. “Pay attention. These others are saying something you need to hear. Fan whatever wonder you find.”
She slowly stubs her cigarette on the saucer.
“This is the way,” she says as she steps out your front door.
Image credit: Kirk Livingston, All Rights Reserved.
No one expects a lightning bolt on Monday
Daily routines condition us to low expectations for our everyday conversations. We assume most of today’s banter will be transactional (for instance): we’re just exchanging information or spreadsheets or paragraphs or money or whatever. I don’t expect anyone to reach down into my box of personal perplexities and provide a custom answer. We don’t expect to be changed by the people we see every day. We kinda know what they will say already. Right?
Some people in my life are thinking through career and other life questions. They are in the process of making decisions and perhaps a decision is due right now—so those questions are up near the surface of their daily experience. When questions and decisions lie near the surface, we show up with all our intentionality poised and ready to fire. Our impending decisions attune our antennae for anything that could help confirm or reject the choice—any help will do from whatever source, before we jump from pan to fire.
Living with clearly articulated questions makes it more likely we will ever find an answer. That’s not a bad strategy for everyday living.
What if we spent some of every day listening for answers to our own deep perplexities? What if we kept looking and hoping for lightning to hit us with insight? It is possible and even likely that answers and insights may flow from the very familiar people who surround us. But we would need to listen to them in a different way.
And sometimes we don’t realize we’ve been lighting-bolted until we’re walking down the hall after a chance encounter.
Jesus and Mr. Levinas show a different way
I’m scanning back through my childhood to remember when it was I picked up this notion that people don’t matter. I cannot blame my parents or my early religious communities or the packs of feral boys I ran with. It wasn’t at Riley Elementary School, and certainly not from my first grade teacher Mrs. Buck.
But somewhere along the line I got in my mind that I could turn and walk away from people and relationships. Somewhere I learned a kind of arrogance that made me think I alone knew what was right, had all the answers, knew the best way. This thinking meant I didn’t need to listen, though sometimes I could condescend to pretend interest. Looking back, it’s hard to imagine why I ever thought this way.
Maybe it’s our get-the-checklist-done culture. Maybe it was the arrogance of my 18-year-old self who knew everything without the slightest inkling how wide the world was. And yet that arrogance persists in the odd niche and behind unopened doors in my life.
I’ve taken to dwelling with a dead philosopher whose writing remains quite lively to me. Emmanuel Levinas is not the model of clarity, but even in his glorious obscurity he says things that make me pause. I recently asked [the long dead] Mr. Levinas to comment on that inaugural address Jesus delivered up on the mountaintop. Mr. Levinas, not exactly a Jesus-follower though he respected the Torah, has a lot to say about the intrinsic worth of people and even hints that others have authority over us in the sense that we owe them attention. From the get-go.
I started to find a lot of agreement between Mr. Levinas and Jesus. Mr. Levinas insisted on the priority that the Other holds in our lives. Jesus reframed the Old Testament law by putting treatment of people up near the top of what it means to be right with God. For instance: Jesus talked about forgiving, even loving, as the alternative to getting even. This has huge implications. Not because we have so many enemies, but because we naturally harbor and nourish each slight done to us.
My philosopher friends from the Analytic tradition (most of the philosophers in this country, judging by the academic programs available), get all twitchy when I mention the Continental tradition of philosophy, which is where Mr. Levinas hangs out. Analytics have a lot of suspicion about how Continentals assemble their arguments. And lots of smart people think Mr. Levinas goes too far. But I think not. In fact there is something in Mr. Levinas that brings Jesus’ inaugural speech back in focus for me.
Mr. Levinas is helping me reconsider the notion that Jesus was not speaking hyperbole. That he really wanted his listeners to give priority to others—even those who had hurt them. This is revolutionary stuff and not at all easy. And it must be understood in the larger context of Jesus’ inaugural address and the way he walked it out later.
Giving people priority in our lives is neither a recipe for madness nor sycophancy. In fact it may be at the heart of our humaneness and our mental health.
How to recognize an awake moment and what to do about it
I heard this again the other day. Clearly this points to a glitch in The Matrix.
I was talking with a friend from a company we both worked at a lifetime ago. I mentioned a client I had been working with and he said, “It’s funny you say that.” He had just had a conversation with someone at the company and the firm had been on his mind.
“Not so strange,” you counter. “You both worked at the same company, it’s likely you had similar work trajectories.” Agreed. That is likely.
But it happens often: you mention something you read or see or hear. Or someone you know or talked with. And the person you are talking with makes a connection with something they recently heard or thought, or with someone they recently talked with. There is a leap of awareness and understanding. And out of that emerges a way forward.
Maybe it is just like what Trinity said about déjà vu: it’s an indicator something is changing. That sounds reasonable to me. In this blog I’ve been tracking how our conversations affect us in the most unwitting and unexpected ways. I wonder if “it’s funny you say that” is something of an open door through which we actually indicate we are consider/reconsidering/rethinking something. Or that we’re open to any of the above. And there is the possibility something much larger is happening behind the language we so easily pick from the moving racks of words in our heads.
Something to think about.
If you hail from the corner office, you’re used to being heard.
If you are king of the OR, assistants jump at your command. If you hang out behind a pulpit or professorial podium—you know some at least pretend to tune in. But not everyone has a built-in audience. Not everyone is heard.
Those accustomed to being heard can have a hard time believing some cannot be heard. Why don’t just they just speak up if they have something to say? (Do they even have something to say?) In the same way Wall Street favors insiders over run-of-the-mill investors, every organization favors and rewards certain voices over others. These are the go-to voices in catastrophe or when a pep talk is needed. But these people sometimes assume everyone has a voice—because people listen to their voice—so, true for everyone.
But how many C-Suiters really want to hear? And how many behind the pulpit or podium really want to dialogue? Because—after all—casting vision is all about one-way messaging. Dialogue takes too long, is messy, confuses people with extraneous stuff and swerves off (my) topic.
What would leadership look like if listening were involved? Certainly there are times when monologue and one-way messaging are appropriate. But not all the time. What if the real strength of leadership was hidden in the will and unvoiced thoughts of the department/team/congregation/classroom? What if all sorts of unity was bubbling deep under the surface waiting to spring out much bigger and much better than anything the C-Suite player could ever imagine? It would be messy at first. But maybe something lasting would happen.
Image Credit: thaeger
On Preparing for Ignite Minneapolis
The unrelenting movement—every 15 seconds a slide changes—makes speaking at Ignite Minneapolis more a verbal dance than a straight-out talk. I’ve compressed four voluminous thinkers (Martin Buber, Emmanuel Levinas, JL Austin and Wayne Booth) into pairs of 10 second sound bites. If the audience includes philosophers packing heat, I may not make it out alive. Practice, practice, practice. And more practice. And then practice lots, lots more. It’s the only thing that begins to still the nerves.
I remind myself of the dream: to see if anyone will bite on my notion that ordinary conversations can be turned into insight-producing engines. All it takes is four steps to tune our thinking—but I’ll wait until after I present to spill the beans on “How to HACK a Conversation for Insight.” It’s the message I’m excited about presenting. Very, very swiftly.
Exercise this underused relational tool
How could listening ever be bad or wrong? For a long time I thought of listening as a sign of weakness: if you are listening, you must not know something. Or maybe you don’t have your ideology straight. If you are listening than you are not talking. And leaders talk: they present solutions. They know stuff and they say it like a champion news reader. Leaders gather followers by releasing streams of words.
It turns out listening is an incredibly rich relational tool: it lets us hear another’s voice. Listening moves a thought from one brain to another. It pulls an experience from one set of muscles to another. Even if we seem to be hearing all the same old words, relational work is accomplished between two talkers when there is also hearing: someone is less alone.
Maybe we don’t listen because we already know what this person will say. But what if we focused on becoming the kind of people others could explore ideas with?
I like those conversations best: where we step outside of ideology and ask “What if?”
Image credit: Jacob Etter
Who will you argue with today?
The late Wayne C. Booth was Professor of Rhetoric at the University of Chicago. Among the many books he wrote was The Rhetoric of Rhetoric, which I reviewed here. In that book he talked about three kinds of conversations: win-rhetoric where the point of the conversation is to bash your conversation partner into submission. Bargain-rhetoric is where we dialogue toward the goal of finally getting to common ground that benefits both of us. In the business world we called this “win-win” because everybody benefits, though deep concessions were often made. But Booth favored this final type: listening-rhetoric, which had the goal of “pursuing the truth behind our differences” by listening with the intent of understanding what the other is saying. There are many benefits to that way of holding a conversation.
Listening-rhetoric sounds pretty obvious as the way forward, right? I agree. Yet when I check my intent in the middle of a conversation (hard to do), I find I am more often trying to listen strategically to counter whatever obstacle my conversation partner places between us. Or I am not even listening. Instead I’m thinking some far away thought (but maybe that’s just me—I’ve always had a problem staying anchored in the present).
I propose a fourth kind of conversation: reconciliation-rhetoric. I see it as Listening-Rhetoric Plus. Pursuing the truth behind our differences can often lead to a very fertile place—a place as uncomfortable as it is fecund. But leaving the conversation as just touching the two of us does not reveal the whole truth. In reconciliation-rhetoric, me and my conversation partner invite God into our discussion. This isn’t churchy stuff. It isn’t religious stuff. It is a human connection that recognizes the bigger stuff going on around us. It is actively asking and talking about how (if?) God’s plans enter our discussion. Maybe it looks like a silent prayer. Maybe it looks like an out-loud prayer. Maybe it is the recognition that larger plans may be in motion, subsuming our own. I’m taking my cue from a pivotal ancient text written by Paul the apostle in his second letter to the church in Corinth (Chapter 5).
Just who is involved in our discussion, anyway?
Photo credit: Niklaus Ruegg
Talk your friend into the answer she already knows
How do you help people connect the dots in their work lives…and in the rest of their lives? Turns out there is a lot we can do. And our primary tool is conversation. In Quiet Leadership, David Rock gives an overview of (relatively) recent neurological findings to show how our brains remain plastic, that is, moldable and changeable, long after childhood. It was once thought that at some point in late childhood our brains stopped—well, it’s not that they stopped growing, but seemed to create new neural pathways with less frequency. That thinking was all wrong. The truth is our brains are capable of growing new neural pathways all the time—new mental “wiring.” And by calling it “wiring,” Rock hints at the mechanics of how we help each other connect previously unconnected thoughts and motivations. He works at changing our mental wiring using questions about our thinking. Helping people find their own answers is light years more effective than telling someone what to do.
Like most books written for the business market, Rock presents a tidy set of steps to follow. Quiet Leadership has six steps. Each step has a chapter or section attached, so there is a lot of very practical, very interesting information for each. I outline these steps below because after reading the book and getting a sense of the potential, I’m curious to remember and try them:
- Think about thinking (focusing on how your conversation partner is thinking about the issue troubling them)
- Listen for potential (listening with a belief your conversation partner already has the tools for success)
- Speak with intent (Be succinct. Be specific. Be generous.)
- Dance toward insight (Conversation really is a kind of dance)
- CREATE new thinking by exploring:
- Current Reality
- Explore Alternatives
- Tap Energy
- Follow up (Renewing and restoring the motivational connections by checking in later)
You may be skeptical of tidy steps. You may think “dance toward insight” is too over-the-top. I agree. And yet there is something in what Rock says that speaks to the reality of any conversation. Conversations routinely take off in crazy directions. Conversations often start with a need and we immediately feel helpless to meet the need: we don’t know all the details. Even if we did, we don’t know how our conversation partner is really thinking about the issue.
Rock provides a way to probe thinking (I like how he asks permission to probe) to not only help a person find solutions, but also to help a person be motivated to act on the solution.
I’ll use this book as I teach, with clients, and in general conversation. I highly recommend it.