conversation is an engine

A lot can happen in a conversation

Posts Tagged ‘conversation

Just Do It—Out Loud (DGtC#31)

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But what if I’m a scaredy-cat?

I’m toying with the notion of starting conversations people won’t like. I’ve advocated and agitated for having the difficult conversation:

  • 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.

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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?

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Why we don’t know what we don’t know

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“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.

Sometimes we carry our own answers

Sometimes we carry our own answers

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.

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Hold On: Let’s Talk About That

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Getting things right requires triangulating with other people.

Wait, let's triangulate for a moment.

Wait, let’s triangulate for a moment.

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

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Image Credit: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

August 24, 2015 at 9:22 am

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.).

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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?

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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.

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They can anticipate a question still on the horizon.

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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.

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“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.

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Image Credit: Kirk Livingston

Giving Voice to Change

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Check my guest post on the MedAxiom blog

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[Click to read]

Third in a series.

Written by kirkistan

August 7, 2015 at 10:24 am

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