conversation is an engine

A lot can happen in a conversation

Archive for the ‘Rhetoric’ Category

You and Joe and Industry 4.0

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Can we grow the ways we talk together?

Some say Industry 4.0 will be about Cyber-Physical systems, the Internet of Things and the Internet of Services. But I cannot help but wonder if, along the way, some genius with a high EQ will also find ways to bring out the best in people and unearth fresh ways for us to work together.

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As hierarchy gives way to connecting mission with ideas and tasks, as people learn to bring their whole selves to work (emotion + logic + ethics + spirit—because they are rewarded for it), as people exercise agency and autonomy and ownership at work—things will look different.

Buber: Come on, folks: It’s “I/Thou” not “You are my tool.”

Buber: Come on, folks: It’s “I/Thou” not “You are my tool.”

Maybe these geniuses, with the ginormous EQs, will help us understand what happens as we form ever more confining boxes around employees. Maybe they’ll show us that using metrics that note every eyebrow twitch and hand movement, metrics that reward those movements that fit the company goals, those metrics actually measure the wrong things and defeat innovation before it is even begun. Maybe these geniuses will notice that our levers of control over employees also inhibit the very thing we most need to move forward.

I imagine stepping into the office of one of these high EQ geniuses and glancing at the portrait of Martin Buber on the wall—their patron saint of collaboration. I imagine being lectured by these geniuses on strategies around deep listening and meetings that matter and how to disagree with each other productively and how they aggressively eradicate authority-rhetoric & boss speak because it is so demotivating to be reminded that someone owns you. And it is also, by the way, not true.

Let industry 4.0 grow to include people.

Please.

 

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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

Catalyze This! (Dummy’s Guide to Conversation #26)

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What to do: Engage colleagues or just put up with them?

G15Between David Rock and David Bohm there is a lot of good advice about helping people have productive conversations. Rock’s “Quiet Leadership” is all about helping your friend find the answer she already knows, which is particularly useful for folks with leadership responsibilities. Bohm, on the other hand, was an omni-thinking physicist with deep curiosity about ordinary life connections. Bohm (and Rock, for that matter) are two of my conversational heroes.
Here’s Bohm on how it is that something new gets created between two people (italics added):

Consider a dialogue. In such a dialogue, when one person says something, the other person does not in general respond with exactly the same meaning as that seen by the first person. Rather, the meanings are only similar and not identical. Thus, when the second person replies, the first person sees a difference between what he meant to say and what the other person understood. On considering the difference, he may then be able to see something new, which is relevant both to his own views and to those of the other person. And so it can go back and forth, with the continual emergence of a new content. That is common to both participants. Thus, in a dialogue, each person does not attempt to make common certain ideas or items of information that are already known to him. Rather, it may be said that the two people are making something in common, i.e., creating something new together.

–David Bohm, On Dialogue (New York: Routledge, 1996)

Every day affords some catalyzing opportunity, often hidden in a very ordinary exchange.

How will you leap in to catalyze today?

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Dumb Sketch/Timed Gesture: Kirk Livingston

Words: Frequently Chosen Tools of the Living

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Words-03312015

 

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Dumb Sketch: Kirk Livingston

How to step into a conversation. And when to step out.

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Can presence and distance live in peace?

The philosopher, the writer, the journalist—and many others—work at cultivating distance in relationship even as they stand in the present.

Why do that?

The work of analysis, of illustrating via story and reportage all require distance for the facts to sort themselves. Just like the passage of time has a way of revealing what was important ten, twenty and two hundred years ago. Just like the artist learns to imagine a two-dimensional plane to begin to make marks with/on their media.

Distance starts to open a way forward by helping us see differently. Presence demands attention—that’s the human piece of empathy and mercy. Sometimes we need to slip from present to distant and back again. All the while avoiding absence.

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My conversation with the hospice chaplain reminded me of the help a bit of distance brings to sufferers and those in grief. The person slightly distant brings a perspective the sufferer may need to hear, though that perspective may not be immediately welcome. Best if that slightly distant perspective comes wrapped in empathy and mercy.

But even at work we can cultivate a bit of distance for the sake of clarity. When the boss pontificates it doesn’t hurt to ask why she does so and what rhetorical goals her sermon serves.

And even at home we can mingle distance and presence: staying present with family (versus attaching to whatever screen or podcast holds our attention) is the first order of business. But we bring perspective when we step back.

We need presence and distance to move forward.

Absence rarely aids progress.

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Pick a Door: Blessed are the Poor

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How do you read this?

Jesus went up the mountain with his followers, as the great teachers do. His first words:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

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How you hear those words depends on where you come from. The images that come to mind, the connections you make, the hope or lack of hope—much is prefigured and preloaded by the conditions you bring.

What did the original hearers hear? That is the question.

But we make a start toward answering that question by asking what door we just stepped through.

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Dumb sketch: Kirk Livingston

Why Academic Writing is so Boring

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Insider language bores the outsider

Researchers, scientists, academicians marshal their facts to a higher standard, but with their neglect of the emotive power of language they often speak only to each other, their parochial words dropping like sand on a private desert.

–Sol Stein, Stein on Writing (NY: St. Martin’s Press, 1995) 11.

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And please don’t equate “emotive” with flowery.

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Image Credit: Kirk Livingston

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