conversation is an engine

A lot can happen in a conversation

Archive for the ‘Theology of communication’ 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

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Wait: Can we talk too much?

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Feed your existential intelligence

I’m gearing up to teach again: freelance copywriting and social media marketing. My understanding of communication and writing and the volunteer social-media tethering we do continues to evolve. I can talk and teach and speculate about what works for communication and how to provide what a client needs. I can talk about how we need to help our clients think—that is a piece of the value-add a smart copywriter brings to a relationship. But these days I’m seeing more limits and caveats—especially in the promises inherent in social media.

These are English students and communications and journalism. Some  business students. Juniors and seniors. Many are excellent writers. Many, if not most, have worked hard to develop an existential intelligence, as Howard Gardner puts it. I teach at a Christian college, and from very many discussions with students, I know they will seek a place for faith in their life and work and life-work balance. Many if not all are just as eager to make meaning as they are to find a job.

That pleases me.

That’s one of the reasons I like to teach there.

One thing I’ve learned is that work alone does not satisfy the meaning-making part of life. Nor does work itself feed the existential intelligence. Craft comes close. Especially when we grow in our craft as we seek to serve others. But work and craft and meaning-making must be purposefully-pursued.SelfPortrait-08262015

Intentional-like.

Because if we don’t pursue them, we fall prey to entertainment. We gradually anesthetize ourselves and starve the existential intelligence with the well-deserved zone-out time in front of the big screen TV. I’m starting to wonder if some of our social media habits also starve our existential intelligence.

I wonder because I wrestle with these impulses.

No. One does not fall into meaning-making. It takes work to make meaning.

I suppose that is the work of a lifetime.

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Dumb sketch: 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

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

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.
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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

How to help your teammate hatch an idea (Dummy’s Guide to Conversation #22)

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The satisfying work of relating

Some of us find great joy in the work itself: left alone to turn the block on the lathe or write the intro paragraph—we get a tad giddy. Like we know what we are doing (more or less) and this process is stimulating and fun and I can see stuff taking shape.

A friend with a VP-of-Meetings type brain would often jab me with his love of meetings:

Meetings are great. I don’t know why people hate them so. We get so much done.

When he said this I assumed they were great for him because he enjoyed telling others what to do. And his lackeys went and accomplished real stuff. Were meetings great for his lackeys? I have my doubts.

But for many of us, it is difficult to get that sense of getting stuff done with people. Conversation is a messy business that seems to typically lead into a wilderness of tangents and false starts rather than to a place where real stuff happens. Washington is the current poster child for conversation thwarted at every turn.

Must it be that way?

Can you see how a lot of freight gets shifted in a conversation?

Can you see how a lot of freight gets shifted in a conversation?

I can’t prescribe a cure for Washington (though targeting the removal of big money would be a positive first step), but here’s a few suggestions for helping each other hatch big ideas and get stuff done:

  1. Listen. For real—really listen. And repeat back what your colleague says to make sure you get it and to give yourself time to process what your colleague said. Resist the temptation to formulate a counter-argument while appearing to listen. Listen for potential.
  2. Ask your colleague to say more. Gain clarity for yourself and your colleague. Work out the idea together through a volley of responses.
  3. Breathe. That’s right, take a breath so you can stay in the moment and hear your colleague. They might just do the same for you.
  4. Use your words to precisely parse an idea. It’s easy to get sloppy and quickly dismiss ideas (and people, for that matter). Instead, tease out the potential idea you saw. Give it some kindling and fan it and get the fire going.
  5. Say it out loud to get something done. Pulling together an idea that is scattered before a team is sort of like nailing it to the wall for all to see. Once everyone sees it, they can respond. Grabbing the idea and saying it aloud can often feel like work accomplished. It feels that way because it is exactly that.

We do well to pay attention to what our colleagues are saying. And the more attention we pay, the more wealth of ideas and practical insights we might just find. In fact, some people work this way all the time:

 

When we toss things back and forth, there is no compromise at all. That is when it is magic.

–Millman, Debbie. How to think like a great graphic designer. (NY: Allworth Press, 2007). From Emily Oberman & Bonnie Siegler/ Number 17, p.96

 Also: consider returning to David Rock’s Quiet Leadership and check out his tidy six steps

  1. Think about thinking
  2. Listen for potential
  3. Speak with intent
  4. Dance toward insight (Permission + Placement + Questioning + Clarifying)
  5. CREATE New thinking
  6. Follow up

People are never tools or things we manipulate to achieve our desired end. But honoring each other by listening and talking—that’s how real stuff gets done in the real world.

 

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

free cheddar

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Written by kirkistan

May 19, 2014 at 5:00 am

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