conversation is an engine

A lot can happen in a conversation

Archive for the ‘Audience’ Category

From “You Suck” to “Say More”

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Advance Your Conversations by Providing Wee Bits of Pivot

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My client has a big agenda for her healthcare organization: she wants her colleagues to reconsider how they purchase their millions of dollars of medical equipment every year. As we talked we realized there are a set of steps her colleagues take to see things differently. Every conversation can be a step, bringing in information, yes, but more importantly, bringing in emotional connection, along with wee bits of pivot. She needed to provide the right information at the right time at the proper emotional setting.

That’s because we use rational thought to change our minds. But changing our minds is also an emotional activity. Reason and emotion together help us see and do things differently.

If you are convinced you are right about something—and most of us are dogmatic by default on dozens of topics—then you state your opinion flat out and your conversation partner is forced into a binary response:

  • “Yes—I agree. You and I, we are brothers.” or,
  • “No. You suck and now I hate you forever.”

But if we dial dogmatic back a notch and consider that another opinion may help us, we are poised to deliver words with wiggle, words that help us move forward in a conversation. What we say next allows us to bring more information along with our own emotional force. And even if we don’t persuade someone of our opinion, we’ve had a conversation where we’ve learned something.

And that is significant.

We need a lot of wee bits of pivot just now. Conversations about race, about policing, about religion, about politics—all of these are ripe areas for letting go of the dogmatism that leads to binary thinking.

Can’t we all just have better conversations?

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

December 2, 2015 at 9:21 am

I completely disagree. Are we still friends?

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How a small group helps you listen better

Say you are in a small group. Maybe you are part of a knitting guild. Maybe a book club. Maybe you meet every two weeks to study ancient texts together.

Your group comes together for some specific purpose, but along the way you make friends with these people. Sometimes these people agree with your opinion. Sometimes they disagree. But you listen to them anyway—even when you disagree. They listen/you listen because of friendship.

Tell me: how do you see it?

Tell me: how do you see it?

A few days back I wrote about a group we are part of where membership is shrinking. The take-away was that it only takes one or two people to have a conversation that is stimulating and even eye-opening, and possibly life-changing (if only incrementally). This has to do with the mechanism of hearing opinions and insights that are different from mine and stopping to consider them—because of friendship. Hearing from others is a beginning step away from the echo chambers we increasingly build for ourselves with media that says only what we want to hear.

Making friends who think and believe differently seems like a good idea. And engaging them in conversation about stuff that matters—that seems like a really good idea.

I wish we had a will to do more of that.

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

If you say a dumb sketch, will others pay attention?

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Engineers aren’t the only ones who love to correct you

I’ve been repeating myself recently to different people and groups within my client’s shop.TheHand-04212015

I’ve been saying aloud the oral version of a dumb sketch. I’ve been telling and retelling the story of how I thought one thing but then in conversation with different experts, came to see what I thought was really not so at all, but something different. I know this is terribly abstract and I apologize: We’re working on a new proprietary idea at the moment, so I cannot be too specific.

I thought X was like Y. But it turns out that X is very like Z. And when I tell that story—of trying and failing and trying—my listeners get it. They learn something. They jump to Z and each gets pretty excited about Z—they had not seen Z before. But now that Z is named and out there, Z may just change everything (and not in a breathless marketing-hype way, but really change how people move forward in this particular industry) (Which I cannot name.) (Sorry.) Each mini-audience put the pieces together and then leaps forward in a way my didactic, linear, word-driven paragraphs did not succeed at.

TryFailTry2-04222015The point of a dumb sketch is to be not-finished. A sketch is the opposite of the heavily produced diagram or slide. The “unfinishedness” of a sketch is the very crux of usefulness as a communication tool. By being unfinished, the sketch invites collaboration and improvement. And people seem to not be able to turn away—at least from the oral version. Failure is built right into my story, and who can resist gawking at a car wreck?

Maybe this is an engine behind John Stepper’s notion of “working out loud.” Maybe this is a key to how we collaborate with each other. We already do this with friends and family, but what if we extend our try-fail-try circle to include many others?

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Dumb sketches: Kirk Livingston

What about those hard conversations? (DGtC #27)

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Are explosive words better from an authority or friend?

I am convinced that where people gather: a classroom, a department, a congregation, discussion is a more effective use of time than all of us listening to monologue. Many teachers explore the flipped classroom, where their time together is in discussion and the preachy monologues and lectures slide to a different time, place and pace. In general I am attracted to collaboration and many voices speaking. I keep hoping coherence will show up.

We may want to collaborate, but obstacles arise. We may want to be walking catalysts, but something stands in the way. Unsaid obstacles can block collaboration. And sometimes we need to have hard conversations, the kind where we not only disagree, but our different positions are emotionally charged. To assert my position will cut at my conversation partner’s position and vice versa. There may be anger. There may be tears. There may be power-plays. This conversation could be explosive.

Demonstrating the explosive past for Minneapolis flour mills.

Demonstrating the explosive past for Minneapolis flour mills.

The late Wayne Booth advocated a kind of listening-rhetoric: listen intently enough to your conversation partner to faithfully tell their position (without denigration) while still holding to your own. This would not be the place for win-rhetoric, where your goal is to beat your message into someone else. Emmanuel Levinas might say we have an obligation to watch out for the person before us—this conversation partner. In fact, he might advocate that this person before us is our first priority. Martin Buber might say we continue to hold that person in high regard as a person, inviting them to consider this different perspective rather than trying to force our viewpoint. Even Jesus modified the law with love and compassion (he actually said love was the fulfillment of the law).

So…

  • Say we take the listening seriously as we approach the hard conversation.
  • Say we take seriously our commitment to the growth and personhood of this conversation partner (stay with me here). And we recognize this person as a person (versus an employee or student or lesser-being).

Given a kind of love for the person before us, we say the hard thing. And the explosion happens. No guarantees, but that blow up can be a worthwhile communication event. Good things can come from that, hard as they are.

Personally, I shy away from these explosive conversations.

But is shying away from a potentially explosive conversation doing a disservice to the thing that needs to happen between us?

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Words Build Stuff Between Us

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Words destroy stuff we’ve built

We all know this, don’t we? It’s perfectly obvious.

If words were money (words are definitely not money), we would be aware of our spending to inform or persuade or entertain. And just like people who make a hobby of “going shopping,” spending our word budget every day would be just another normal piece of everyday life for a U.S. citizen (or “consumer,” as business has renamed humans).

And that is actually how words work: We spend them.

With words we buy influence. We give some bit of knowledge or direction to someone else and win something in return. Some bit of psychic collateral. With words we buy context: we proclaim this or that in response to a situation at home or at work. Sometimes those around us agree with our context-setting assessment. Sometimes they don’t. Hint: if you want more people to agree with you, become the boss. Authority has a way of bringing believability with it, whether or not it is earned.

How we spend our words is worth thinking about. For many of us conversation seems instinctual. We say this in response to that. We inform, persuade, entertain with a joke. We do most of this without making conscious choices about our wordly-intentions.

But what if we did think of how we spend our words? What if we invested our words to accomplish some end? What if we invested our words with meaning—which is to say, what if we said things that were pulled from the well of what is important to us? That would make us vulnerable, of course. It would also be a platform for growth. Because when we say what is important, we learn something about ourselves and often a meaningful conversation can follow. The kind of conversation that has a chance of touching us deeply.

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If you’ve not read Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me), now is a good time. Tavris and Aronson have been referred to frequently as the Rolling Stone article on rape at the University of Virginia and news reader Brian Williams were found to have amped up their stories beyond anything resembling truth. Tavris and Aronson talk about cognitive dissonance and how we have such a hard time living with ourselves when our inconsistencies and personal malpractices appear—so we just change the story to coddle our precious psyches. The authors also demonstrate how memory gets built and rebuilt as we change stories:

Memories create our stories, but our stories also create our memories. Once we have a narrative, we shape our memories to fit into it.

–Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson, Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me), (Orlando: Harcourt, Inc, 2007) 77

I am advocating for conscious use of words, and for filling those words with stuff that is important to us—scary as that is. I see this as the opposite of small talk. I do, however, acknowledge that small talk is the precursor to big talk.

In my dream world, we use words to constantly build stuff between us rather than destroying relationships by purposely misunderstanding and showing we are better/righter/fitter/stronger/groovier.

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Can 78 bad sketches change your life?

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Don’t stunt your growth by reaching for fame

It’s funny we gauge personal success by numbers of followers. It’s as if we’ve adopted the business transaction as a model for every area of our lives.

Business wants more eyeballs for more attention for more revenue for more profit. And that makes perfect sense for our business goals.

What’s problematic is when we confuse business with what humans need to move forward: Doing what attracts attention and gathers “Likes” is often very different from the stuff our souls need to grow.

Your business factory is not a solid model for personal growth

Your business factory is not a solid model for personal growth

One thing I’m learning from the artists and photographers I’ve been interacting with at Dumb Sketch Daily (currently at bad drawing #78) is that while today’s drawing is (clearly) imperfect, there is always tomorrow’s drawing. And I know what I’ll do different in that drawing. I know I’ll try this technique, or that view, or this topic. I’ll do it again and create yet another imperfect representation of the world.

And that’s OK.

Because the pursuit is about learning to see, learning how to draw, learning how to write. Learning how to tell the truth. Learning how to interact with each other. Learning how to be human. Perhaps even learning how to interact with God.

The goal is not fame, unless you really want to turn this pursuit into a business. But learning itself—whether crowds acknowledge you or whether you plod silently and alone—learning is its own reward.

But I still argue your growth is also a benefit to the humans around you.

And while I don’t think 78 bad sketches have changed my life, I can say with certainty that I see things differently than I did 78 days ago.

 

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Dumb Sketch: Kirk Livingston

Gadamer: A Tormented Relationship to Writing

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The Best Writing Sounds Nothing Like Writing

Good writing is where you remember nothing about grappling with words but are instead transported with images and ideas that appeared in your brainpan. Effortlessly—or so it seems.

This kind of effortless reading is exceptionally rare with philosophers, who are well-known for obfuscation in their pursuit of parsing detail and cleaving difference from sameness. And yet Donatella Di Cesare, the biographer of philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer, claims Gadamer’s writing style is “lucid” with “striking prose.”

We’ll see about that.

The lucid philosopher is the exceeding rare philosopher.

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I’ve just picked up Gadamer: A Philosophical Portrait by Donatella Di Cesare (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2007). In the introduction Di Cesare shared about her process:

There is a further difficulty that a monograph on Gadamer should not avoid, and that is his tormented relationship to writing. In order to get around his Socratic resistance to writing, he preferred the form of the lecture, the talk, or the debate. It is not an exaggeration to say that almost everything he wrote is based in dialogue.

She goes on to say Gadamer is “always careful to interrogate everyday language and to avoid rigid terminology,” so I am eager to see how his prose ends up as lucid and striking rather than simply tedious.

What piqued my curiosity was Gadamer’s alleged privileging of oral over written. It seems his inquiry was largely based in discussion, between people, rather than one man alone with a sheet of 20# bond and a pen. Again: I’m just at the beginning of reading Gadamer. I’ve got his big Truth and Method on order, but I know from my own writing that dialogue and conversation have a pull that abstract philosophizing rarely reaches.

The best writing sounds like a conversation with an interesting friend. I’m eager to see if Gadamer achieves that.

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

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