Archive for the ‘listentalk’ Category
Follow the Instinct to Say Again
We talk endlessly about the question “What is remarkable?” in my social media class. I am convinced that the bits of life that we remember to tell someone else are the very things that make for great conversations. It is that instinct that also powers engaging social media.
Say I run into an old friend and remember I finally read that book she told me about two years ago. Why did I wait so long? “The chapter about the train ride through the Alps was unbelievable and may have changed my life,” I say. I just remembered all this when I saw my friend and she said “train.” I can see that she is happy I read and enjoyed the book—one of her favorites.
Curiously, it is the running into the friend that pulls the trigger on the remembered thought. That instinct to pull from memory a thought stored for a particular person is one to follow. But maybe I did not store a thought for a person. Maybe I just registered a reaction to the book and I’ve been telling anyone who will listen—simply because I think they might find it interesting
Three things about this instinct to remark:
- We often remember for someone—we know they will like this thing and so we tell them.
- In a simple remark, we break complex thoughts into pieces and parts that can be verbalized. We want to be heard so we anticipate the questions our friend will say and pepper our talk on the fly with the answers they seek.
- The connection powers the thought and the communication. And so this memory or thought that becomes a remark goes on to cheer or enlighten or delight our friend.
The answer to “What is remarkable?” has its roots in a mystical intersection of connection, remembering and communicating. We might wish for such connection in our social media practice. The model for true connection is our plain old remarks to friends.
Image credit: Kirk Livingston
Even the Gray and White Outside Points In
Surely you notice all the 2015 retrospectives: photography, music, film, advertising. Every industry has some writer summing the year into the ten best. These waning days lend themselves to a bit of reflection.
2015 was a year for trying things. Today I’ll produce my 365th dumb sketch—a sketch a day since January 1, 2015. Did I produce art? Not a single time. But I did learn to see shadow and light and the crazy, limitless variation in the people around me. I did learn that very few lines exist out in the physical world and that Marcia Brady can look like the Joker when drawn spectacularly wrong.
From publishing ListenTalk: Is Conversation an Act of God? I learned that I need to simplify my argument for listening to each other. In fact, the mystery and promise of conversation has taken hold of me so that I am listening to conversations in a new way. I continue to wonder what might happen if people at work listened to each other more closely. I continue to hope my nation can learn to listen to people outside our tribe rather than label and dismiss them. I suspect conversation is an engine will continue to sketch out the parameters of useful conversation in 2016.
Outside my window are variations on gray and white. Gray sky. White snow. Dark gray branches thrusting up toward blue-gray clouds. Lighter gray shadow on snowy edges. It’s the perfect climate for asking about the fruit of a year’s worth of effort.
How about you? What’s got your attention as 2015 melts into the gray?
Dumb sketches: Kirk Livingston
Living with Questions
I met a preacher at a wedding recently. He had just officiated the ceremony, which was a beautiful thing—two people creating a great beginning. Afterwards, making small talk, the preacher told me how a few people in his congregation had changed. I was curious, because I had been reading Howard Gardner’s Changing Minds: The Art and Science of Changing Our Own and Other People’s Minds. In these highly partisan days, where we carefully surround ourselves with our tribe who speak our language, agree with our view of the world and where we ingest the news biased toward our agenda, I’ve been wondering how anyone ever escapes their own personal echo chamber.
“God did it,” he said. “In quite miraculous ways. Real change. 180 degrees.”
The preacher’s story of change had to do with someone coming into his congregation and how their life was different now.
“Wow,” I said, because change is remarkable. And because I like to hear stories about God doing stuff in real life.
“Sometimes I wonder,” I said, “Whether God does stuff or whether people change to fit the new club or group they’ve joined. Because I’ve noticed that the things we attribute to God can sometimes be explained by communication dynamics—how this new club or group satisfies a question someone has. Or perhaps the group dynamic meets an impulse they have, and they are more than happy to abide by the rules and unspoken ways this tribe works. And that looks like change. And perhaps that’s where change takes place: as we adopt a new moral code and sort of work ourselves into it.”
Was the preacher backing away?
“Which is not so say God is not in it,” I added, quickly.
“Hmmm,” he said.
“But I’m just sort of eager to cite the proper authorities when we talk about change,” I said. “Because change seems more nuanced, more a response to the questions we carry with us.”
Was he nodding in agreement?
Wait—where did he go?
What questions do you carry into everyday life? Those very questions may be the beginning of change.
Image Credit: Kirk Livingston
No I won’t.
But I’ll be grateful.
A friend emailed today that he ordered my book and thought my title and description worked well. I felt like hugging him. Mind you, I’m not a big hugger. Nor a big kisser—apart from the lovely Mrs. Kirkistan.
But there is something about finding people who resonate with my story that makes me weak at the knees (figuratively). I’m fascinated by all the crazy wondrous stuff that happens in even the most mundane conversations and now I’m starting to run into others willing to be fascinated as well. People are now telling me about the big life direction changes that came from random (seeming) conversations.
As I start to look for venues to talk about the book: book clubs, radio shows, churches or small groups, I am grateful for the opportunity to have conversations about, well, conversation.
Image credit: Kirk Livingston
How do ordinary conversations change the course of your life?
The smallest things you hear and say have the power to alter the trajectory of your life.
But you know this—just look back at a few of the most innocuous conversations you’ve had—the ones that led to a school and a life partner, or to the career you love, or to breaking with some substance.
ListenTalk rereads some old Bible stories for what God expected in conversation with women and men. A few wily philosophers show up in the book to quiz God—and us—about the power and promise of ordinary talk.
Read ListenTalk and you’ll come to look for and expect big things from even the most ordinary conversations that populate your day. Because ordinary conversations lead to far deeper connections than you’d imagine in your wildest fever dreams.
Feel free to give the book a 5-star review at Amazon.
Can a conversation save your life?
I recently met a therapist who practices dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). She and her team work with clients who may struggle with a number of issues including borderline personality disorders and thoughts of suicide, among other things. As we talked it seemed to me that her practice was very much focused on, well, talking. Her practice of therapeutic talk has a pretty good track record of helping people find ways through each scary personal wilderness.
In Doing Dialectical Behavior Therapy: A Practical Guide (NY: The Guilford Press, 2012), Kelly Koerner describes some pieces of how this therapy works:
Emotion dysregulation is the inability, despite one’s best efforts, to change or regulate emotional cues, experiences, actions, verbal responses, and/or nonverbal expression under normative conditions.
Gaining control is a matter of recognizing biologically-based contributing characteristics, focused regular therapeutic conversations, skills training, self-monitoring and a host of other strategies and tactics.
As a non-therapist outsider, I am simply curious as to how far conversation can go to help people become well again. And I am very curious as to what a therapeutic conversation looks like. While we may or may not suffer the particular illnesses that Koerner notes, I am reasonably certain anyone reading this can testify to the clarifying power of a conversation with a good friend and the long-term impact conversations have on keeping us…sane.
In ListenTalk: Is conversation an Act of God? I try to show what happens in our simple and ordinary conversations. I found a few philosophers to talk with some ancient texts (pre-order ListenTalk here), and what they ended up saying together continues to surprise me. It’s a book that will be interesting to people of faith, but the big idea is that since people matter, our talk together matters. And more than that, we actually come alive in tiny ways when in conversation.
I’ve begun tracing the different paths where conversation is truly an engine for some particular outcome. I’ve noted the product place of conversation in many business settings. I’ve wondered about the role of conversation in connecting any/all of us to God. And now here is another example of using the ordinary tool of talk to uncover and possibly address deep-seated need.
Talk. It’s a marvel.
Other Shop Talks you may find interesting:
- Writing with Sheet Metal (Shop Talk #2)
- Is Your Job Fulfilling? (Shop Talk #3)
- Power Distance Vs. Skunkworks (Shop Talk #8)
Image credit: Kirk Livingston
If one motivation doesn’t fit you right now, check that you have a pulse
We’re not great listeners. There’s so much we want to say and we are generally desperate to be heard. And in these highly partisan times, we simply shout at and past each other and call it a conversation.
But there are natural times when each of us actually does stop to listen. I count at least four:
- I Need Something. The most interested college students I teach are the ones who realize they need something. They are motivated to listen and stay engaged in class because they see themselves using the skill/knowledge we are talking about. I listen intently to the old guy at the hardware store because I truly have no clue why this plumbing connection will not seal. I listen because I need whatever it is the person is saying.
- I Want to Understand. It’s why a lot of us read fiction and non-fiction alike: we want to understand this topic and we’re willing to pay attention to this author as she or he spins out the story or argument. Wanting to understand is the motivation behind a story’s tension—it’s the hook that keeps us on the pages. We listen to our kids when they explain why they did this or that (when it seems perfectly counterintuitive to me). We sometimes listen to our own explanations and obfuscations as we try to distance ourselves from some thing we’ve done.
- I Want to be Close to You. “Listen, sweetheart, tell me everything about you.” The early days of romance give way over time to the growing realization that there is much we don’t know about our spouse—even after 30 years of marriage. We listen because we want to hear the perspective of our beloved.
- I Want to Serve. “Serve” sounds so menial, doesn’t it? And yet finding yourself in a position to help another is a primary motivation for work—at least I’ve found it so. Wanting to help beats working only for money. Wanting to help beats working to amass power every time. And wanting to serve is a sort of gift that keeps on giving. The desire to serve means listening to someone to see what he or she needs and wants. You cannot serve without listening.
If you have a listener in your life—someone who lets you spin out your argument or story and remains engaged—count yourself fortunate. I believe there’s actually quite a lot of healing in those listening encounters.
If you want to be an extreme listener tap into one of these motivations and apply it to your current situation.
Can you think of other motivations for listening?
Image credit: Kirk Livingston