We live in the age of talk; do we know about and engage in the art of conversation? Think about it: talk shows, reality shows, trade shows, sales calls, all kinds of calls with requests all seem to indicate that we have lost the old art. Gianandrea blogged about the Age of Conversation and shared a book title with us. A good start.
Greg Krauska asks me what resources I would recommend to someone who would like to learn more about the art of effective conversation. While my answer may surprise some -- the classics and the best fiction provide inspiration -- there are a couple of books in particular that have helped me shape my thinking around this lost art. In no particular order.
Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together by William Isaacs remains the best departure to do some serious pondering on how we often talk, yet so rarely we feel we connect with each other. As the book title indicates, conversation is about thinking with each other. I quoted from the book in another post on Thinking Together -- Signal to Contact. These other quotes will help with Greg's specific question:
"The heart of dialogue is a simple but profound capacity to listen. Listening requires we not only hear the words, but also embrace, accept, and gradually let go of our own inner clamoring. As we explore it, we discover that listening is an expansive activity. It gives us a way to perceive more directly the ways we participate in the world around us... This means listening not only to others but also to ourselves and our reactions."
"Dialogue enables a `free flow of meaning,' which has the potential of transforming the power relationships among the people concerned. As this free flow emerges, it becomes quite apparent that no one person owns this flow and that no one can legislate it. People can learn to embody it, and in a sense serve it. This is perhaps the most significant shift possible in dialogue: that power is no longer the province of a person in a role, or any single individual, but at the level of alignment an individual or group has with Life itself."
Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott is the book that gave me the gift of thinking about "emotional wake" as in the experience we leave behind as we go through our business. Scott believes that the conversation is the relationship and it needs to be handled with authenticity and warmth.
"A fierce conversation is one in which we come out from behind ourselves into the conversation and make it real. Being real is not the risk. The real risk is that (1) I will be known; (2) I will be seen; (3) I will be changed."
"In fierce conversations together, we create a force field by asking the questions, by saying the words out loud."
"Soften your eyes and allow the world to come to you. There is so much more to listen to than words. Listen to the whole person."
The Answer to How is Yes by Peter Block will freak some of you out. Block does not provide answers. Instead, he insists that we pursue the "why" question. I have a liberal arts degree, how could I not love someone who says that the ideas we need today have a long and noble tradition of looking to the arts, drama (Italians can do drama, let me tell you), literature (that's how I learned history), religion, and political theory for insights about individual and institutional transformation.
How could I not love someone who says that intimacy is a marketing strategy? I've read many who blogged about becoming friends through this electronic medium.
"[Intimacy] is something that is not knowable or manageable. It must be chosen for the sheer experience of it or it loses its quality. This is what acting on our deeper purpose entails, and operating in an environment of isolation and virtual experience makes acting on a set of values more difficult."
Block states that if we want depth, we need to step out of time.
"In many ways the shortage of time is an artificial scarcity. We think we are increasing the value of time when we make it more scarce than it objectively is. Why have we come to the point where we think there is not enough time? We know exactly how much time there is. [...] Yet we seem to be fighting time and the clock."
So the requirements of this new conversation are more a way of thinking than a list of things to do. We need to remain focused on who we are, and embrace those words and expressions that best articulate that. We need to be willing to be ourselves, and that also means imperfect. Have you ever noticed how we fall in love with imperfections in others? They are what make them dear to us.
We need to stop wining and begin to give ourselves permission to win. And we must stay true to the fact that there are no certainties, yet the process and the pauses are the places in which we can find enjoyment and learning. I find that you can learn a lot just by observing -- I've been practicing it my whole life. We're never out of time, just out of practice.
We can evolve the conversation in the comments. What have others found useful?