conversation is an engine

A lot can happen in a conversation

Posts Tagged ‘conversation

5 Ideas that Will Change How You Talk Today

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3 Philosophers, a Rhetorician and a Social Media Expert walk into a bar…

Since writing ListenTalk, I’ve continued to hear these voices echoing in my conversations at work, at home, at church, in the street, at the curling club (I made that up. I don’t curl. Nor do I hurl.).


Here’s what these voices say:

  • We have responsibility for others. That’s why we greet people and learn names and acknowledge presence. Our responsibility can do deeper—or not. But it is there from first sight and we all know it. (Emmanuel Levinas)
  • People are not objects. So when we treat people as objects, we devalue them and strip ourselves of excellent relational opportunities. People becoming objects can happen in the workplace: it can happen when the CEO looks down on the vast army of minions. It can happen in the home. But it shouldn’t and we do well to defy this narcissistic pull. (Martin Buber)
  • Words have incredible power. We can say things and, behold, it is so. Like pronouncing a marriage. Or deciding on a goal. This may not seem so, given the river of words we issue, the mundane, seemingly meaningless conversations that make up 99% of any particular day. Despite the great volume of words avalanching through our lives, they do—at times—hold incredible power. That’s why we hang on the last words of a dying person. That’s why we want to hear the words behind our favorite writer—we want to hear them explain how their story or argument came about. You can probably recount a handful of life-changing words right now, words someone spoke to you at just the right time. (JL Austin and John Searle)
  • Our best talk comes when we’re not out to win a conversation. Humans are persuasive beings—we’re constantly trying to convince each other of things. But our best thinking and talk comes when we listen as well. And our worst conversations look like monologue—when someone preaches at us without listening. Those also tend to be short conversations. (Wayne Booth)
  • Say what you will. Unless you live in North Korea or Russia, you generally have the capacity to say what you want. Yes, the current Facebook effect seems to be to say only what our tribe wants to hear, but we can find and build new tribes using social media. This is very important, because the old institutional voices are veering from truth more and more frequently. We need those new voices. We need your voice. (Clay Shirky)

Do you see how any one of those five ideas might impact your conversations today?


Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Our Best Conversations Satisfy and Anticipate

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They can satisfy a question we didn’t know we had.


They can anticipate a question still on the horizon.


Image Credit: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

August 12, 2015 at 8:56 am

How Does Anyone Change Direction?

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Living with Questions

I met a preacher at a wedding recently. He had just officiated the ceremony, which was a beautiful thing—two people creating a great beginning. Afterwards, making small talk, the preacher told me how a few people in his congregation had changed. I was curious, because I had been reading Howard Gardner’s Changing Minds: The Art and Science of Changing Our Own and Other People’s Minds. In these highly partisan days, where we carefully surround ourselves with our tribe who speak our language, agree with our view of the world and where we ingest the news biased toward our agenda, I’ve been wondering how anyone ever escapes their own personal echo chamber.


“God did it,” he said. “In quite miraculous ways. Real change. 180 degrees.”

The preacher’s story of change had to do with someone coming into his congregation and how their life was different now.

“Wow,” I said, because change is remarkable. And because I like to hear stories about God doing stuff in real life.

“Sometimes I wonder,” I said, “Whether God does stuff or whether people change to fit the new club or group they’ve joined. Because I’ve noticed that the things we attribute to God can sometimes be explained by communication dynamics—how this new club or group satisfies a question someone has. Or perhaps the group dynamic meets an impulse they have, and they are more than happy to abide by the rules and unspoken ways this tribe works. And that looks like change. And perhaps that’s where change takes place: as we adopt a new moral code and sort of work ourselves into it.”

Was the preacher backing away?

“Which is not so say God is not in it,” I added, quickly.

“Hmmm,” he said.

“Because I absolutely believe God works through ordinary conversations in very big ways (now’s when you would mouse over and order a copy of my new book ListenTalk. Or just click here.)

“But I’m just sort of eager to cite the proper authorities when we talk about change,” I said. “Because change seems more nuanced, more a response to the questions we carry with us.”

Was he nodding in agreement?

Wait—where did he go?

What questions do you carry into everyday life? Those very questions may be the beginning of change.


Image Credit: Kirk Livingston

Giving Voice to Change

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Check my guest post on the MedAxiom blog


[Click to read]

Third in a series.

Written by kirkistan

August 7, 2015 at 10:24 am

“You Disappoint Me” & Other Nonstarters (DGtC#30)

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Don’t Make Everything a Crisis Communication

Regular old talk has a way of lining things up. Steady, routine conversation between spouses, friends, family, neighbors, and colleagues can have a gentle, restorative quality.

Does that sound like an overpromise—especially given the mundane nature of so much of our talk?

Regular talk helps grow people along similar lines

Regular talk helps grow people along similar lines

It’s true in this way: like keeping roads open for traffic. We depend on open streets to drive to the grocer or to pick up our returning student from the airport. And sometimes we use those roads to race our pregnant wife to the birthing center.

Hard conversations are hard because of some urgency. Something needs to be said right now or else bad things will happen. Often we put on our formal language when we intend to communicate some crisis point:

  • “I’m disappointed in…X” is a way corporate managers temper the screaming in their skulls.
  • “We need to talk….” Is the time-honored way spouses bring up all sorts of unpleasantness.

But if those conversational roads have been open for traffic for some time, and relationships have been established, sometimes those formal words need never make an appearance. Talking about things can be handled on the fly, in normal conversation, in small bits. That’s because trust builds with the word traffic. And those conversational roads can carry quite a lot of weight.

Talking is a wonder.

Who would have guessed?


Image credit: Kirk Livingston

How to catch elusive thoughts

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Tell someone. Or just tell yourself.


Check your web of relationships early and often, before those thoughts vanish.


Image Credit: Kirk Liviingston

Written by kirkistan

July 24, 2015 at 10:23 am

If you order my book, I’ll kiss you.

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No I won’t.

But I’ll be grateful.

Another friendly sculpture from Lakenenland Sculpture Park

Another friendly sculpture from Lakenenland Sculpture Park

A friend emailed today that he ordered my book and thought my title and description worked well. I felt like hugging him. Mind you, I’m not a big hugger. Nor a big kisser—apart from the lovely Mrs. Kirkistan.

But there is something about finding people who resonate with my story that makes me weak at the knees (figuratively). I’m fascinated by all the crazy wondrous stuff that happens in even the most mundane conversations and now I’m starting to run into others willing to be fascinated as well. People are now telling me about the big life direction changes that came from random (seeming) conversations.

As I start to look for venues to talk about the book: book clubs, radio shows, churches or small groups, I am grateful for the opportunity to have conversations about, well, conversation.


Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

July 22, 2015 at 9:51 am

MedAxiom Blog: Conversation as a Collaboration Tool for the Value-based Future

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Check out my post today at MedAxiom: Conversation as a collaborative tool. LINK

Written by kirkistan

July 21, 2015 at 11:48 am

How to Talk to Yourself for Fun and Profit (DGtC#29)

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How can you learn something?

It seems like teachers stand and teach. But the truth is more like teachers stand and talk. Teachers try to arrange words so students will grab an idea and monkey with it themselves. The learning is in the student, not the teacher. Same with preachers and CEOs: when they blather on endlessly, chances of some party line changing anyone’s mind diminish greatly.

Copywriters and artists and comedians and sculptors and storytellers know this. So they trim their words/images/jokes/granite/story to the bare essentials. Among those bare essentials must be something that resonates with your experience. Something among those bare essentials must ring true—otherwise you won’t listen and you’ll go back to playing Angry Birds. Those few bare essentials stand the best chance of actually engaging you to work with the idea and even try it yourself.


Talking to yourself can build a way to let light in.

Successful communicators want you to talk to yourself. They want you to ask questions and to question assumptions and to wonder how your old behaviors fit your old assumptions. Working with an idea is part of processing an idea. The end result of processing an idea is a change in behavior.

But it comes back to talking to yourself. Even when talking with a friend or spouse or family member, you are also talking to yourself: testing words to see if they are true. Processing life stuff. You are even listening to and learning from what you say.

People who find a way to hold a conversation with themselves about what they see, think, hear and believe are some of the most interesting people you can run into. They are interesting because their self-talk and interior questioning boomerangs out to project a different way of looking at those things we thought were a done-deal. Their self-talk often resonates with the questions ambling about in our own minds.

Where is self-talk leading you? And with whom does your self-talk resonate?


Image credit: Kirk Livingston

See Also: Dummy’s Guide to Conversation

Written by kirkistan

July 21, 2015 at 9:45 am

Q: My friend has lost all desire and curiosity.

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What can I say to bring him to life again?–Lazarus’s friend

Dear conversation is an engine

My friend has lost all desire and curiosity. What can I say to bring him to life again?

–Lazarus’s friend


Dear Lazarus’ Friend:

Your friend may be depressed. Does he look at his smartphone a lot—that could be a sign. Tell your friend to hie unto a physician for a thorough physical–because it could be physical. It could require a counselor or mental health professional.

But from a friend’s perspective, find ways to be present. Take your friend out for coffee and get him to spill the beans: what’s going on? Friendship is about talking all the way through your friend’s understanding of life just now. Touch on what he fears and what he hopes. Touch on what next steps he might. This will take time—maybe many cups of coffee over a long time. Or take a long walk together–do something that takes the pressure off talking.

Being present with your friend may look like conversation. Or it may sound like silence. But being there, whether or not words show up, that is the first point.

Start there. Because showing up may be just the glimmer your friend needs.


Image credit: Kirk Livingston

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