conversation is an engine

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Archive for the ‘listentalk’ Category

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

The World Needs You—Ms./Mr. Verbal Processor—Annoying As You Are

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Silence can be nice sometimes, too

I know a few people who process life verbally. I’m not naming names, but to be with them is to sit before an open window through which you hear internal debates, sharp intakes of breath in response to a new stimulus, and general narration about turning left or standing up or “I think I’ll eat a jelly bean.”

People process life in all sorts of ways, of course. I don’t know what I think until I write it down. Others might sketch a response to a life event. Others process a life event over the course of a three-hour bicycle ride. James Thurber could hold 1000 words in his head as his eyesight failed, processing and editing in his brain-pan and seeming to spit out a fully-formed essay or story.

And some talk it out: declaring boldly and then backing up to change direction. And then boldly declaring the opposite. They settle on a position over time (often). Sometimes it’s fun to engage in their internal debate. Sometimes it is maddening to witness the ebb and flow.Rescued-04062015

The ways we process life are not mutually exclusive, we might each do all of the above to figure out what is going on. It may take many conversations and many bike rides and many sketches to, say, process a larger than expected tax refund (ha), or a job loss. Or a death.

But the verbal processor plays a unique role among us. They are the ones who quickly spout a response to a question. They tend to be more comfortable in a group, or , perhaps this: for the groups they are comfortable in, they are even more verbal. The things they say become a sort of conversational/processing rudder against which we agree or disagree. But it is something nearly tangible (as tangible as words ever get) we can react to. The verbal processor does everyone a service by putting something out there for the rest of us to respond to. Their initial, fast response is a word that can rescue us from our solitude. Their quick work can help us avoid sitting passively while inside we are furiously yelling to get our heads around some new situation.

Kudos to the verbal processor.

Their out-flowing attempts to sort things pull the rest of us in as well.

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Dumb sketch: Kirk Livingston

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.

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

FastCompany: The Beguiling Dangers of Insider Language

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Check out my article in today’s FastCompanyThe Many Dangers of Saying What You Think People Want To Hear

FastCompanyAriticle-12152014###

Image Credit: FastCompany

 

Collaboration in Real Life: The Book Cover

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Self-promotion is stinky poop

This week I spoke with a copywriter who writes plays and novels on the side. But he doesn’t work too hard on promoting his finished bits of literature. He prefers to stick to the writing part (who doesn’t?). This copywriter is not atypical on two counts:

  1. If you don’t need to get your message out (that is, move product to earn the feeble coin a book represents) you can let it languish.
  2. Copywriters are bad at self-promotion.
Listen Talk Camp Fire-RD-10212014

Roger’s cover

Not all copywriters, and probably not the copywriter I spoke with. But many are bad at self-promotion. It’s funny because while copywriters have insight into the psychology of business problems and use divergent thinking to solve those problems, they have a hard time turning that insight onto their own projects.

And that is true for all of us.

It’s not just because self-promotion has the feeling of swimming in a septic tank. It is also because we are truly blinded to the very things we are most passionate about. We’re typically deep inside those passions, and we have no clue what it all looks like from the outside. That’s why we need to tell others and get the outside insight that telling affords.

A client and friend provided a quick insight that has proved far better than anything this insider could produce. My first book, ListenTalk: When Conversation is an Act of God, is on its way through this marathon called publishing. Encapsulating the message into an image and a few words has proved daunting to me. Roger’s cover, with the fire, well, most people love it better than my covers. I’m not bitter, I’m grateful: grateful to have people around who can offer very tangible insights. These insights regularly, well, cover my arse. And I’ve always maintained that I am neither a designer nor photographer.

I thank God for people with such quick insight.

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My covers.

A word about ListenTalk versus “conversation is an engine”

If you’ve dropped by this blog, you may have noticed I hit on different topics as they relate to conversation. Business and the business of writing, and the business of how faith and craft and work fit together are key drivers for me as I write.

My first ongoing project along these lines was to develop a sort of practical theology of persuasion—something I was desperate to understand as a copywriter who regularly trusts in God. That is what ListenTalk represents. It takes some topics from “conversation is an engine” but develops them specifically for people of faith. Here’s the draft copy from the back cover:

“Talk is cheap.”

So we say, but deep down we know different.

We know talk is a potent engine for war and love and all that lies between. Talk is our entertainment and our tool for exploring every relationship. Talk is an economic engine. Lives change—culture changes—when we talk together. In many ways, the future is patterned after our speech.

And this: even God responds to talk.

Yet we pay scarce attention to the working parts of conversation: the listening, the words used, and the intent behind the words. And we hardly think about God’s purpose in speaking, and how God speaks today with fierce desire for reunion—and how that desire motivates all God says and does.

Every day, people work out God’s desire in thousands of ordinary ways. Not so much through sermons and high-minded programs as through the ordinary conversations among themselves.

ListenTalk will help you to re-think what God accomplishes in even your smallest, most ordinary conversations.

ListenTalk is a wonderful book with deep wisdom, practical advice, and heart-warming encouragement. Read it, converse with it, and share it with others.” –Dr. Quentin Schultze, Calvin College

“In our contemporary world where words and ideas seem to divide far more than they unite, ListenTalk provides an antidote of balance and sanity. ListenTalk reminds us of a power that can lead to greater understanding, intimacy, collaboration, and even personal transformation…culminating in deepening our life with God.” –Judith Hougen, University of Northwestern—St. Paul

 

 

Hey—wait a second. You could buy ListenTalk!

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Prank your colleagues with over-eager listening

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Listening-lessons from the dead

Halloween is still a couple weeks out and we’re gearing up to scare the bejeebers out of each other. Check out this infarctioninducing bus shelter in Austria. Certainly the walking dead are a scary fiction.

(The walking dead are fiction. Right?)

Here’s a way to prank your colleagues on a Monday. When they say something, get very close—inches away—and listen. It’s freaky, I tell you. Invade their personal space with wide eyes and open ears. Set your mind and fix your body to understand what they are saying, why they are saying it, and what it means.

This scary prank comes courtesy an old dead guy I’ve been reading. This old dead guy played all sorts of pranks. He was a kind of performance-art-communicator: He shaved with a sword. He drew a city on a brick laid next it for a year, packed his luggage and broke through a wall instead of calling for a camel-taxi.

Only they weren’t exactly pranks. He was hearing voices (well, a voice) and acting out what that voice said. Was he nuts? Likely his contemporaries thought so. But his culture also held a treasured place for people they considered prophets—people who seemed to speak for God. Which Ezekiel reluctantly did.

This particular listening prank came from the voice Ezekiel heard, but it also was not a prank, but a way to pay attention to the next thing he was about to see. The voice asked for careful attention because the next thing was important. And the prophet’s job was to declare it.

Be careful with this prank. Pretending to listen can become actual listening, which can be habit-forming because of the way it affects your relationships and job.

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Image credit: Taxi

Talk With Those Who Talk With You (DGtC#25)

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Humans just want to connect

Social media, like sales, seeks an ever-expanding public. All tweeters want more followers. All bloggers—same thing. Just like the TV networks of yore, where Nielsen Media Research rated efficacy by numbers (and types) of viewers they brought in. Which just happened to coincide with increasing amounts of cash they could wring out of a sponsor for a 30 second span of monologue.

How to measure audience (and collect cash) continues in today’s social media world as various metrics are embraced and/or disgraced: clicks, views, comments, engagement, time spent on a site.

But real humans in earnest conversation don’t care about size of audience. They care about connecting with a person to tell the important thing they have to say or to hear the important thing a friend or colleague has to say. They want to remark on what is remarkable.

aConversation-10152014

Call me a mystic (please!), but I still embrace the notion that the people peppered through our lives are there for reasons beyond our understanding. And those talking to you—today, right now—have something you need to hear and they need to say. Those people right beside you are worth attending to. For their sake. And for yours.

It’s not wrong to widen your audience.

Just don’t lose sight of this moment with those right before you.

Also see:

 

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

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