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3 Ways to Escape Your Tribe

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I love ya. I gotta go.

You’ve started to entertain the notion that keeping identity with your tribe makes less sense than ever before. And you wonder at your own sanity because the facts before you do not match the story your tribe keeps telling:

  • Maybe your tribe believes one person in your office has nothing good to say, but you think otherwise.
  • Maybe your tribe is willing to look the other way as the elected official—whom the tribe helped elect—continues to lie, goes against the sacred center of your tribe’s beliefs and behaves increasingly erratically.
  • Maybe your tribe shuts down alternate readings of your sacred text because those readings don’t suit the current ideological goals of the people calling the shots.manysigns-2-20170126

For these and any number of other reasons, it may be time to leave your tribe. But how? It’s tricky, because most of your friends and your family friends and friends of your friends are in the tribe. Maybe you spend all your time with these people. Maybe you live with these people. But here are three starting points:

  1. Check in with soul-friends. You know people who are like-minded and are driven less by ideology and more by relationship and caring. Find these folks and build trust with them. Spend time with them and share your concerns. Ask questions together and see if a new story emerges.
  2. Read and talk widely. Get different opinions from diverse people. Look for ways to read books that challenge the orthodoxy. The good news about challenge is that what is true remains while what is false slips away. But reading is best when you share points of interest with others—especially with those soul-friends. Look for opportunities to step outside your tribe: the person at work or in class who is clearly coming from a different perspective. Who knows where friendship and insight might come from? Actively seek others with questions, remember that you are not alone with your questions.
  3. Have Faith and Take Courage. Hold your core your beliefs firmly and ask questions of the periphery. This is the time-honored way of artists, writers, thinkers, activists and leaders. See where the questions lead—this is the way of sanity and art. Turning a blind eye to inconsistencies and discontinuities leads to a very bad place, a place where reality differs from tribal knowledge.

There is a way forward and you will find it.

Good luck and God-speed.

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Image: Kirk Livingston

I Thought of You the Other Day (DGtC#32)

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Why are some things worth saying?

Next to the sound of your name, nothing grabs your attention like somebody saying they were thinking about you. You listen closely to what comes next because it holds a personality clue.troll-2-20161202

Go on—please continue to tell me what charming character trait/hideous character flaw you thought of.

It turns out the stuff that bubbles up through memory is the most critical content to say to your wife at dinner, or your kids at Christmas. Or your colleague. Interestingly, we remember this thing as we face our person. The reminder pops when your wife/kid/colleague makes that casual remark they always make about that pet topic. And then gears turn deep down in your brain-pan and the reminder careens drunkenly down the thought-chute to your mouth. And you can hardly swallow that bite of House Lo Mein, so tremendous is the pressure to say this thing.

Because you know they will laugh. And it will be a moment—a shared delightful moment.

I’m a note-taker. Constantly writing in books (books I own, mind you). Regularly setting reminders in Evernote. Forever reaching for a scrap to jot something. And I refer to my notes. But increasingly I wonder whether my notes harbor the best topics for conversation. I wonder this for the same reason that school lectures are so very tedious: Hearing from someone’s notes or pre-thought ideas is so boring. The very opposite of remarkable.

It’s the stuff we remember as we sit in conversation that matters most and makes a difference. We take notes and write things down to remember for later, but the most critical stuff bubbles up on its own–that’s the remarkable stuff. Maybe our note-taking has raised the importance and we are more likely to remark.

So by all means make your notes—especially as the holidays bring friends and family you’ve not seen for some time. But remember that the magic happens in the moment of conversation, which is a moment of connection. Chances are good your remark will be different from the note you made.

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Louis L’Amour and Writing for Life from Life

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My new dead friend teaches on knowing

I do not read westerns, typically.

But Mrs. Kirkistan, with her eclectic tastes, put L’Amour’s autobiography into my [sweaty] hand. Education of a Wandering Man is a revelation.

Two things right away:

  1. L’Amour was an autodidact like few others. He had little formal education—he quit school at 15 to travel. His real education started with knocking about as merchant marine, going to war, wrangling cattle, going hungry between jobs, boxing—and reading. Especially reading. L’Amour’s hunger to know is infectious.
  2. L’Amour’s hard-knocks education contributed to his readable writing. That’s my hypothesis: life experience makes for more readable writing. And vice versa.

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L’Amour’s life (1908-1988) seems a rebuke to the supposed schism between “academic” and “practical.” If you read Education of a Wandering Man (and I hope you will) you will find an articulate man who read widely and used very approachable language to package his thoughts. But it wasn’t just easy-to-read language that was his genius; it was the layering of language into a story. L’Amour is a storyteller who is hard to resist.

His is not academic writing, of course. But it is thoughtful writing—especially when you find out what he was reading when he wrote. His simple stories start to go deep.

In his autobiography L’Amour named the books that had been influential for him. There are scores of them—73-120 books per year, from 1930 to 1937—and he named them one by one. But these are not the books listed on a college syllabus (though some are, to be sure). From Voltaire to Nietzsche to Schopenhauer to Mann to O’Neill to Joseph Conrad And lots and lots of fiction These are the books that piqued his interest as he lived his life. And that is how his autobiography is organized: the books he read while he was living this or that particular chapter. Reading about the West as he worked on cattle ranches Reading Nietzsche and Schopenhauer as he boxed. Reading ancient myths and stories as he sailed. Reading about the West later as he wrote frontier stories. (I may be off in the details about when he read what—there were so many mentions and so many chapters in the guy’s life).

 

Education Not a Given

One thing that stands out is the focus of his education. It was not to acquire a degree. It was to move forward with what he was intended to do—as best he understood.

Stay with me here: L’Amour read to see how stories worked.

Yes, he got lost in books. Yes, he loved learning. But his learning was always aimed at assembling an image of how the world worked. He was of a time when many readers were doing the same thing, because education was not as available as it is today. But there were books.

Here’s the point: L’Amour told stories, and all his philosophical thinking about life is bound up in the stories. He is not pedantic (at least in this book), but thoughts about life roll out of the characters in the stories. This is a revelation because much of our education (and my education) are all about pedantics: laying lesson out in neat arguments. One could memorize these arguments. In fact, you have to memorize them because they slip away the moment you turn your eyes. That’s because they are not moored in the emotion of real life.

L’Amour, on the other hand, had stories pop out of him of all sort of real (ish) people doing real things in life because of their underlying beliefs.

 

Oral and Writing Should Talk

The big revelation that L’Amour gave me was that precisely because he was educated by stories and for stories (he had to captivate audiences again and again in the different chapters of his life), his writing fit quite naturally into an oral rhythm. No big words. No long sentences. Ideas were easy to remember because he wrote them with stories, and we remember what that philosophy looks like without the pedantics.

Because of L’Amour’s example, and because of my own failures (plus a few minor successes) with communicating and expressing detail, I’m starting to move toward copy that can be said. I’ve always advised copywriting students to read their sentences aloud to see if they make sense. In the end, it’s quite possible that what we hear and what we gather from what we hear, is the standard for engaging another person, as well as the standard for knowing anything.

Knowing seems to pass through our mouths, in particular.

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when words fail

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via Conversation Agent

Must Your Story Always Be About You?

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Content today: Your story in context.

“Here’s where we show we care about what they care about,” I said. “For sure you get to tell your story. But 75-90% of the time your eye is on what your audience cares about. With social media we take off the loud salesman jacket and relax in an easy chair, ready to talk.”

For years I’ve talked with clients about teeing up conversations rather than selling copy. It’s a matter of committing to topics and copy that meets an audience need, day after day. Only my most forward-thinking clients listened without a glaze covering their eyes.

That’s changing.

One reason is organization-specific content has become a more easily-definable task. Buying content is becoming a bit more like buying advertising—though with a few key differences. You bought advertising with parameters and metrics in place: Buy your media and Bam! Targeted eyeballs and open pocketbooks follow.

At least that’s how we told the old advertising story.

Now we see that advertising model was all about interrupting, catching attention with brand hyperbole and hypnotizing dumb viewers to buy. And pronto.

Which hasn’t really worked for years.

What my clients now see is they can stay in touch with old and new and potential customers by telling what they know in a whimsical way. Not browbeating, but inviting them to think together about a shared interest. Staying in touch means many touch points along the marketing funnel, none of which are a salesman’s pointed jab. This means knowing what customers care about, what their problems are, and naming potential solutions to those problems.Marketing funnel-20160808

Creating content will seem circuitous to the hard-boiled marketing manager in her late 50s. And it is. But it isn’t. Creating content shows leadership and care as it sweeps up the concerns of our target audience and addresses them one by one, parsing out that copy over time so that we seem like we care.

And here’s the crazy thing—by creating content, we find ourselves actually caring.

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Dumb Sketch: Kirk Livingston

Perfect: This is Impossible.

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How to Wait Like a Boss

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Where does Fallow Fit in Your Work Calendar?

You’ve pulled all your levers, called in your favors, phoned the usual suspects and still, nothing.

You’ve checked and rechecked your inbox.

Nothing.

This is the freelancer’s periodic plight: No matter how busy you were last year, last month, last week, today is a different day—subject to the vagaries of clients, markets, time and creative flow. And there’s nothing you can do about it except wait.

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Waiting is not the worker’s lot. Employees have no end to work and the seeming ability to remain busy. It’s only when the busy employee steps away from a job (voluntary, lay-off, fired) that she or he realizes that they might have benefited from stepping off the treadmill earlier. A bit of perspective may reveal their busy productivity didn’t really add up to much they can take with them.

Waiting is also the job-hunters dilemma. The job-hunter taps her toe waiting for the wheels to turn, for the right people to review the resumes and the interviews to be scheduled. Waiting for an offer. Waiting for a “thanks-but-no-thanks.”

No one likes waiting. You want productivity 24/7 and let’s start being productive this instant.

Waiting is a complete waste of time.

But is waiting a complete waste time?

In fact, waiting pulls back the curtain on our fallow ground.

Kathleen Norris, in her book The Quotidian Mysteries, wrote about the infinite prairies to which she returned to focus on writing. All that land—miles and miles—seemed so unproductive. And that unproductive land was also a reflection on her mood. It took time, but she eventually saw that there was actually pretty big stuff happening in those fallow fields—all largely unseen. Norris learned to sit with her own fallow, unproductive times knowing that hidden gears were turning and new avenues were opening:

No small part of the process of writing is the lifting up into consciousness of what has long remained in the basement, hidden, underground, as in a tomb.

Maybe you are crazy busy and fallow/unproductive/waiting time has no place in your schedule. Please reconsider. Take that vacation. Rethink your time between jobs. Look deep into the underground and pull out the life what was entombed years ago.

That’s how you wait like a boss.

 

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

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