Posts Tagged ‘conversation’
Check out my guest post on the Essential Partners blog:
Why are some things worth saying?
Next to the sound of your name, nothing grabs your attention like somebody saying they were thinking about you. You listen closely to what comes next because it holds a personality clue.
Go on—please continue to tell me what charming character trait/hideous character flaw you thought of.
It turns out the stuff that bubbles up through memory is the most critical content to say to your wife at dinner, or your kids at Christmas. Or your colleague. Interestingly, we remember this thing as we face our person. The reminder pops when your wife/kid/colleague makes that casual remark they always make about that pet topic. And then gears turn deep down in your brain-pan and the reminder careens drunkenly down the thought-chute to your mouth. And you can hardly swallow that bite of House Lo Mein, so tremendous is the pressure to say this thing.
Because you know they will laugh. And it will be a moment—a shared delightful moment.
I’m a note-taker. Constantly writing in books (books I own, mind you). Regularly setting reminders in Evernote. Forever reaching for a scrap to jot something. And I refer to my notes. But increasingly I wonder whether my notes harbor the best topics for conversation. I wonder this for the same reason that school lectures are so very tedious: Hearing from someone’s notes or pre-thought ideas is so boring. The very opposite of remarkable.
It’s the stuff we remember as we sit in conversation that matters most and makes a difference. We take notes and write things down to remember for later, but the most critical stuff bubbles up on its own–that’s the remarkable stuff. Maybe our note-taking has raised the importance and we are more likely to remark.
So by all means make your notes—especially as the holidays bring friends and family you’ve not seen for some time. But remember that the magic happens in the moment of conversation, which is a moment of connection. Chances are good your remark will be different from the note you made.
Image credit: Kirk Livingston
Advance Your Conversations by Providing Wee Bits of Pivot
My client has a big agenda for her healthcare organization: she wants her colleagues to reconsider how they purchase their millions of dollars of medical equipment every year. As we talked we realized there are a set of steps her colleagues take to see things differently. Every conversation can be a step, bringing in information, yes, but more importantly, bringing in emotional connection, along with wee bits of pivot. She needed to provide the right information at the right time at the proper emotional setting.
That’s because we use rational thought to change our minds. But changing our minds is also an emotional activity. Reason and emotion together help us see and do things differently.
If you are convinced you are right about something—and most of us are dogmatic by default on dozens of topics—then you state your opinion flat out and your conversation partner is forced into a binary response:
- “Yes—I agree. You and I, we are brothers.” or,
- “No. You suck and now I hate you forever.”
But if we dial dogmatic back a notch and consider that another opinion may help us, we are poised to deliver words with wiggle, words that help us move forward in a conversation. What we say next allows us to bring more information along with our own emotional force. And even if we don’t persuade someone of our opinion, we’ve had a conversation where we’ve learned something.
And that is significant.
We need a lot of wee bits of pivot just now. Conversations about race, about policing, about religion, about politics—all of these are ripe areas for letting go of the dogmatism that leads to binary thinking.
Can’t we all just have better conversations?
Image credit: Kirk Livingston
Man in spotlight laughs with failure
The recent excellent GQ article (By Joel Lovell) on Colbert illuminates the thoughtful wells the comedian will pull from as he starts his late night gig tonight. Is he a moral intellectual? A public thinker? A likeable guy on stage who talks with a knife? Is he a comedian with a charter to entertain?
One revealing quote deep in the article shows Colbert’s dance with failure:
…longtime Second City director Jeff Michalski told them that the most important lesson he could pass on to them was this: “You have to learn to love the bomb.”
“It took me a long time to really understand what that meant,” Colbert said. “It wasn’t ‘Don’t worry, you’ll get it next time.’ It wasn’t ‘Laugh it off.’ No, it means what it says. You gotta learn to love when you’re failing.… The embracing of that, the discomfort of failing in front of an audience, leads you to penetrate through the fear that blinds you. Fear is the mind killer.”
What is true for improv and comedy is also true for teaching, business meetings and ordinary conversation. We just might fail. We might fail to connect. We might fail to convince. We might fail to feed the self-image we continually tend, whether that image is macho or hip or knowing or controlled.
I cannot help but wonder if our growing xenophobia—an unfortunate currency in play by many presidential hopefuls—is a response to fear of honest but hard conversations. That kind of conversations that need to happen between us. All of us.
Philosopher turned motorcycle mechanic Matthew B. Crawford’s insightful book The World Beyond Your Head: On becoming an individual in an age of distraction (NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015) writes about the role of apprenticeships and (some) graduate programs in helping the newcomer absorb the wisdom and knowledge of the group. Growing understanding happens through didactic methods of course, lecture and the like. But much of what we know arrives as a sort of tacit knowledge—a kind of knowledge that shows up from watching others do a task.
On the way to this and many other connected points, Crawford points out again and again that we need the conversations and the interactions with others in order to understand who we are. We need interactions within our tribe—yes—but we also need the interactions outside our tribe. These can be clarifying interactions: they help us understand what we know and what we believe about the world.
All this to say:
- I look forward to Steven Colbert’s masterful comedy/public thinking.
- I want to grow at hard conversations—even if they gut the self-image I so carefully tend.
- I/we need to embrace the people who are different rather than push them away. They have powerful things to teach us—and that is part of the collective wisdom of our U.S. of A.
But what if I’m a scaredy-cat?
- Even if I don’t know all the answers,
- Even if I don’t have all my ducks in a row,
- Still, start the conversation.
It’s a faith thing: faith that pressing thoughts into words and sending them clanging out at a conversation partner will have a positive effect. The faith part has to do with hoping we’ll get through it and still have a relationship.
My friend is a hospital chaplain. He and I have talked several times about the sort of sacred space he tries to step into at the bedside of a dying patient and family. It’s typically a quiet space, through deeply-charged with emotion. He comes to listen, he says. Platitudes and easy answers are not part of his game plan.
At these moments, just before the end, all sorts of unsaid stuff gets suddenly said. Confessions. Sorrow. Hopes and dreams. Oddly, even the very most mundane, ordinary things—weather, lighting, parking, “the soup is too salty”—are also said. But these ordinary words have more to do with human connection and presence than transferring information. The words themselves communicate far more than Webster’s dictionary would allow.
“Sometimes people just need to hear themselves talk,” said Dave, the chaplain.
So he listens.
And the process of letting-go unfolds.
You’re Doing it Wrong
Surely we’re doing things wrong if we hold our most important thoughts in stasis until we show up at a loved one’s deathbed. Or until we wake up on our own deathbed. There’s got to be room for saying what’s really on our minds, even if uncomfortable, even if potentially relationship-threatening. I suspect that saying our important stuff out loud is sometimes a work of fierce determination. There are times where we must force those words up the esophagus and out through the lips.
Saying our most important stuff will not happen on Facebook or Twitter. Those spaces are loaded with an image we’ve carefully primped. We are agreeing and agreeable in those places.
No—I want to cultivate those raw conversations. I’m thinking of those conversations that happen after driving 1700 miles together. The conversations that happen at the end of a long evening talking with friends.
Is it possible to bring those kinds of conversations into regular life—even if they make people uncomfortable? Even if it goes against my grain as a people-pleaser? Those are the conversations where growth can happen.
What have you left unsaid today that really needs to be out in the open?
Image credit: Kirk Livingston
“As I was telling Mrs. Kirkistan…”
Our unguarded responses in conversation often point a way forward. It’s just that we don’t realize it until we’ve said it. And even then, it may take us recollecting that statement, in yet another conversation, to an entirely different person.
Example: sometimes I think writing is the stupidest thing to do on earth. This is not my standard line with writing students. But sometimes I swing low, like after I finish a big project and stop to calculate the return on (mental) investment.
Note to self: Never stop to calculate the mental ROI on a writing project. Just keep writing.
I was describing to Mrs. Kirkistan how it is I’ve come to believe writing is the stupidest way to spend your time—bar none. In that conversation, after several (verbal) paragraphs about all the frustrations of writing and why I’ve come to despise it, I found myself defending the process and telling of the delights of writing and what I want to do next.
How did I just travel from one conclusion to another within 90 seconds?
It’s almost like opening a water tap in a long vacant house: you let the water run until it is cold, then you drink. I know with writing you have to write a lot of dreck before you ever get the useful and true stuff. Same with verbal conversations: sometimes we just talk to fill up the space between us. And then sometimes the true thing just spoken—that thing that landed between us—is the very answer to an unasked question.
We unwittingly answer our own question.
But, this: we need to listen so we can hear what we already knew.
Moral: make sure there are some unguarded responses in each day. And listen to those unguarded responses to help sort what you don’t know.
Image credit: Kirk Livingston
Getting things right requires triangulating with other people.
Getting things right requires triangulating with other people. Psychologists therefore would do well to ask whether “metacognition” (thinking critically about your own thinking) is at bottom a social phenomenon. It typically happens in conversation—not idle chitchat, but the kind that aims to get at the bottom of things. I call this an “art” because it requires both tact and doggedness. And I call it a moral accomplishment because to be good at this kind of conversation you have to love truth more than you love your own current state of understanding. This is, of course, an unusual priority to have, which may help to account for the rarity of real mastery in any pursuit.
–Matthew Crawford, The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction (NY: Farrar, Straux and Giroux, 2015) 63
Image Credit: Kirk Livingston