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Archive for the ‘Theology of communication’ Category

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.



Image credit: Kirk Livingston

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Written by kirkistan

May 19, 2014 at 5:00 am

What Business Can Learn From Church #1: Relational Trumps Transactional

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Identify and Hear Gifted Voices

Seth McCoy runs a coffee shop in the Hamline Midway neighborhood of St. Paul. Groundswell makes an irresistible Chai Cinnamon Roll—especially warm.09052013-192645_1939445287521_1284060023_32450336_4061200_o-150x150

Especially first thing in the morning.

Seth McCoy also pastors a church blocks away. A new sort of church that takes seriously the notion that people benefit more from dialogue than monologue.

Church and coffee shop each vigorously pursue their mandates: Groundswell makes tasty foods and strong coffee in a high-ceilinged, inviting neighborhood space. Third Way Church takes seriously the notion that community is much more than one guy sermonizing for an hour—you are likely to hear many voices if you show up at a gathering. Groundswell and Third Way Church inhabit the same neighborhood. This community connection also begins to bridge traditional divides, like the sacred/secular myth.

Talk with Seth the business owner and he may tell you how the leadership team works at Third Way Church: discussions can get “heated,” which is to say, leaders are passionate and vocal. One gets the sense they don’t hold back. On the church leadership team they’ve identified different giftedness or abilities in each of the leaders and they try to honor that particular voice. Often leadership voices in a church can follow some of the traditional patterns of prophet/apostle/evangelist/shepherd. Team members speak consistently from their expertise—which is also their natural bent—and they speak with authority.

Groundswellmn-09052013_edited-1Our businesses are typically more transactional affairs. Employees are hired with a set of expectations (whether narrow or wide) and expected to go about their business. Our best work situations are those that move beyond merely transactional and begin to see the various bits of giftedness each employee brings—and then honors that voice. Most of us who have worked in organizations and companies where we remained unheard—and those work situations number among our least favorite. And those best work situations were where we were identified as the person in the know on some particular aspect of the shared vision.

Business can learn from church by recognizing the gifts, abilities and particular bent of employees and hearing the authority that employee speaks from. No matter what position the employee has, there is some authority/expertise/giftedness they bring.

We owe it to each other to move beyond transactional to relational.


What does a “social” church look like?

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What Does a Social Anything Look Like?

hey-let's unlock our solipsism

We talk a lot about “social” but often marketers and corporate communicators practice the same old monologue and one-way messaging characteristic of the last century—they just shrink and divide their messages into packets of 140 characters and broadcast them through the channels people happen to be listening to at the moment.

For most of us “social” means only broadcasting through relatively new channels. We mostly don’t get the listening part of dialogue. This deafness comes from a deep place: this human tendency to see ourselves and our thoughts—our messages—as the axis for all that happens in the world. How could it be otherwise, given that we experience every part of life through our senses: the world comes to us as images, sounds, tastes, feeling and odors?

Certainly that is the case with profit-seeking entities like corporations. We monologue because we want people to buy our stuff. Same with churches: leaders broadcast what they want followers to hear and act on. Same with any organization.

3 Lessons and a Revolution

I’ve just finished my third run at teaching Social Media Marketing at Northwestern College and yesterday was my favorite day: when the students present what they learned from their social media excursions and community building activities. They learned:

  • That the most tautly-orchestrated rhetorical strategy falls apart pretty quickly in the face of the opinions and interests of their audience. Students become completely captivated by hearing others respond to their words and ideas. These responses are especially enticing after years of writing papers only for the professor’s eyes.
  • Try-Fail-Adapt was a motto we took from our texts and nearly universally adopted. This is the way forward with building communities using social media.
  • That vague “interesting” titles and headlines don’t pull readers nearly as well as solid simple titles and headlines. And that putting a number in a headline produces a bit of magic. Something women’s magazines have practiced for decades.

One notion that threaded its way through the presentations was this subversive, revolutionary aspect of working with social media. When you look beyond today’s tools as just more broadcast channels and see that people are given a voice, the world starts to tilt differently. People with a voice. A voice that agrees with leaders. Or not. Voices that speak back to power. We’ve already seen those voices collecting around the Arab Spring, Putin’s Russia and our own Occupy movements. What will that look like as people slip into ownership of the church? Because it is sure to happen there as well. Will leaders learn to lead collaboratively and by pulling people toward them? Or will leaders rely on pulpits and authority structures for their power? And how long will that tactic last?


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Check My Article in Comment Magazine

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I’m Writing a Book called “ListenTalk”

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I’m writing a book about talking and listening. I’ve become crazy about what happens in our best conversations: we come alive. We learn something about another person and in the spontaneous moment of creation as we frame up words to describe our own situation, we often suddenly learn something brand new about ourselves. Something we didn’t know before we started talking. I’ve begun to think that when we are in conversation, we are more truly ourselves. And the best conversations have a way of making us very present to each other.

I call this book “ListenTalk: You’re Boring. Let’s Change That.” I think we were created to be in constant, deep, creative, spontaneous conversation. Not just with each other, but with God. That’s why parts of the book develop a theology of communication, starting with God’s act of creation, where His speech-act created dirt and air and giraffes and coffee beans and people, among other things. So you can see that with my book I hope to bring together something of JL Austin’s work on communication with a commitment to faith. Maybe I’m trying to do something impossible. I’m not sure. In a few days I’m scheduled to talk with a philosopher and speech-act theory expert at the University of Minnesota. I’m interested in his response to my notion of combining these things.

Two more pieces of this book project capture my attention in a big way.

Derrida and Welcoming the Other

One has to do with Derrida’s notion of welcoming the other. I recently finished James K.A. Smith’s “Jacques Derrida Live Theory” (Amazing: the book retails for $120! No wonder I cannot afford most of what I read) and was pleased to see a philosopher working from a faith perspective dealing with Derrida’s thoughts. I was impressed to see overlap between Derrida’s notion of welcoming the other into conversation and the God of the Bible’s commitment to welcoming the other. The Bible talks about reconciliation, and that definitely includes welcoming the other. What reconciliation does not mean (and here is where Derrida is particularly helpful in helping throw off some of my Christian cultural baggage) is making the other like me. We’re all tempted to make those around us like ourselves. But that effort misses the point of the kind of conversations that will sustain us.

Is Prayer a Model for Conversation?

Pulling more from theology than communication theory or philosophy on this last point, one of my chapters looks at prayer as the Bible talks about it and posits that we were meant to communicate with each other along these lines. Nothing really mysterious or unorthodox, I just wonder if the way we communicate with God (listening followed by moments of intense listening, and then very frank speech) is meant as a model for how we communicate with each other. Maybe listening is to take more of our effort than talking, which is a lesson advanced people of prayer seem to know.

Social Media is a Way Forward

This book ends with the notion that people of faith are currently presented with a rich opportunity to create and be in conversation. People of faith would do well to place ideas out in the public common areas, since there are far fewer gatekeepers, and see how people respond. This is part of the class I teach at Northwestern College called “Building Community using Social Media.”

What do you think? Would you read a book like this?


Sight isolates. Sound incorporates.

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What do we lose when we don't hear?

We talk endlessly about community but find the doing thereof problematic. It’s not just because we like the idea of people better than actual people, it’s that context sometimes stands in our way. Reading Walter Ong’s Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word (NY: Routledge, 1993), I’ve come to wonder if technology divides us. Not any highfalutin technology like iPhones or mobile apps or Twitter or any of the current batch of ones and zeros in our pockets. I’m talking about a very basic technology that we all take for granted and is mostly invisible: writing and, in particular, reading.

When I was a kid, before I spent so much time reading, I was fascinated by my parents’ and grandparents’ conversations. “Fascinated” is too strong: there were moments of fascination, especially when they told some story of their life growing up. Or when they described some mistake they made—especially if it was funny. I had to listen carefully for those stories because mostly their talk was boring, about money or work or gardening or real estate or…well, you’ve listened to these conversations. The interesting stuff poked out every once in a while and that’s what kept me hanging around. It was entertaining to hear the stories. And they were stories I would not know of if I did not hang around.

Sight isolates. Sound incorporates.” That’s Ong’s concise statement about what happens as we attend to our different senses (71). I think he’s right. Reading, for me, is mostly an individual thing. It’s rather private. I read all the time, and when I read, I am drawn into myself. I actually begin to resent when someone talks to me when I am reading because—limited person that I am—I cannot continue reading while they address me. And yet often I would rather keep reading then enter into conversation.

This is not a judgment on reading and writing and seeing. It is a simple statement of truth: sound, since it is an event (Ong describes sound as something we experience only as it stops or goes away), it is something “we” experience. It is shared. Sight pulls us into ourselves. Reading, in particular, pulls me in and makes me ponder stuff. The pondering goes on deep in my brain, even while I look up from my book as you address me. I’m listening. Kinda.

Here’s the thing: those conversations with parents and grandparents and loud uncles were truly an event. I recognize that now. And we responded as a “we.” We laughed. We cried (occasionally). We responded with an urgent “That’s crazy!” But it was what “we” did.

Not so with reading.

I’m preparing a class for Northwestern College to help writers write to build community using social media. My definition of community must expand beyond those folks that are physically nearby to include those who share common interests. Laura Gurak, in Persuasion and Privacy in Cyberspace: the online protests over Lotus Marketplace and the Clipper Chip (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997), says the concept of community is rooted in place and in common values (8-9). Building community puts a priority on the sharing of those common values. But in this case, the building of community happens as individuals sit (or stand) and read. They read on their own.

I think of a church service. We listen to the preacher. We listen to a text read. It affects us together. We discuss it as we drive home and as we sit eating lunch. I wonder if those first people experiencing “church,” way back when the gospels were being written, way back when Paul was writing his letters (letters now incorporated between the leather-like covers of the book I own), shared a sense of wonder at the event of hearing. That shared event brought them together in a community, where they just had to talk about it. Because by talking about it they experienced it all over again. We have the same opportunity, but our technology calls us away. My book (or blog list or The Onion) calls me away from conversation. Perhaps it calls me away from community. But not necessarily.

What do you think?


Addendum: I mean no disrespect for those unable to hear. I am more targeting the shared experience of responding to something we’ve all experienced, which is open to all.

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