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Showing posts from June, 2012

When the conversation goes silent

Silence is an interesting phenomenon in a conversation. It's a sort of keystone: everything else leans on the silence and changes according to its quality.  We teach people something of how to talk and sometimes even something of how to listen, but there is no teaching on how to be silent together.

Silence is either the most excruciatingly awkward thing that can happen to a conversation or the sign that the conversation is deep and wide and wonderful. And we shy away from both. We shy away from the wonderful conversations because we are not sure what can measure up to the moments of full, rich silence or because we are afraid that the silence will ring so clear that we will reveal something, somehow, that we didn't mean to reveal. We are afraid because change happens in the silence.

And yet, it's the fear at the top of the roller coaster, the fear of taking the first step onto stage, the fear before the whistle blows and the game begins. The fear that is also a hope that i…

Powerful conversations

Is it possible that you have had a conversation that made a huge impact - and you didn't even know? Maybe you always treat people that way. . . but on a particular day with a particular person, the way you always treat people made a difference. Maybe you were just doing your job - but on that day, for that person, doing your job meant something important. Maybe you were just having a great day, and your smile made someone else dream a little. . .

People will often tell you that power happens intentionally. This is only partly true. Some power is intentional, and all power involves elements of engagement and intention. Often, being intentional both opens up the possibility of power and underscores the actions we take.  Your intention does make a difference.

Other things make a difference, too. Good results can sneak up on you.  This is more likely if you practice having a good relationship with you. Yes, it's nice to be good at rapport but the primary benefit of rapport is that…

Where do great conversations happen?

There are two kinds of conversations that are great. The first kind happens when you want it to happen. By this I mean, you choose to talk to someone you expect to have a great conversation with and you set up a context where conversation is likely.  Sometimes this means sitting someplace quiet; sometimes it means attending an event and following up with an opportunity to talk; sometimes it means going for a walk or a drive.  In all of these situations, you are intentional about who is part of the conversation and where it happens.

There's another kind of great conversation. It's the kind you don't intend and don't expect. These conversations happen in rich environments where people are in that interesting state of being enlivened by their work (whether or not it's paid work) and temporarily detached from it (maybe they've stepped out for a bio break or maybe they are doing an errand, for instance). Lots of research shows that creativity happens when lots of di…

Reflections on resources and Father's Day

You can't order fruit salad for lunch anymore. It's no longer a menu item in the places where ladies lunch or executives gather.

From the time that I was very little, my Daddy took me out for lunch on my birthday. We went to real restaurants. Sometimes I wore gloves; always I wore my best dress and my best behaviour.  Most of the time, I ordered fruit salad. The good ones came with ice cream (the less-good had a scoop of cottage cheese in the middle).

In my work, memories like these are what we call resources. They are the experiences that remind us who we are and how good the world can be to us. We enjoy them whenever they come to mind, and we lean on them when the world is not good and we are not sure who we are.

Some of my favourite resources take me back to the family room in the house where I did much of my growing up. I remember sitting by the fire, keeping very still, while my daddy brushed the tangles out of my hair.  There is something quite wonderful about sitting v…

Preparing for a difficult conversation

People often look for advice at the wrong time.  When faced with having a difficult conversation, they are ready to hear advice on how to have a difficult conversation. A better time for the advice would be before the difficult conversation became necessary. Because the best first step in having a difficult conversation is to have lots of interesting, productive, great conversations.

It may be harder than it used to be to have good quality conversations, or it may just be that we have different excuses than our parents did for not having good conversations.  Either way, great conversations take time and attention and curiosity and a willingness to engage with a different point of view.  With the possible exception of mild curiosity, all of these are usually absent from social media "conversations." There's a difference between shouting your opinions to the world, lurking and listening, and participating in dynamic, engaging conversation.

Conversation is one of my favouri…

How do difficult conversations begin?

You are the expert on the difficult conversations you have to have.  I do have some thoughts on how you got there, how to avoid many difficult conversations, and how to get started with the next one that really is necessary.

Let's start with the difference between difficult conversations with people you have previously had great conversations with, and conversations that are difficult because you don't have shared experience of great conversations.  Difficult conversations don't happen without history and context (generally this is what creates the difficulty). There are two kinds of things that matter about a shared past experience: the points of common good and the anchors to other conflicts. As you enter a difficult conversation, you have a choice about what part of the past you want to carry into the room.

This doesn't inevitably mean that finding shared experience of resourcefulness is a good way to go into a difficult conversation.  But it is certainly worth chec…

The economics of conversation

Full disclosure: I don't actually know much about the discipline of economics, although I have recently read some of the work that engages behavioural economists.  What I know is mostly what we all know: that here in North America we cannot compete economically unless we can win the competition for the best ideas. And the best ideas now seem to be the ideas that we produce collaboratively. Authors like Jonah Lehrer (Creativity)  and Steven Johnson (Where Good Ideas Come From) have been popularizing research that shows we do our best thinking when we engage with other smart people - even when we're working on different things.

This seems to hinge on an ability that we don't teach and may be neglecting to a point where we lose it. The ability is conversation: the exchange of ideas and imaginings and feelings. The idea of conversation comes from those long, wonderful talks where two or more people are face to face and mind to mind. But that kind of conversation doesn't ha…

How to tell a story

Many people ask for the chance to learn more about how I tell stories.  Mostly, they are thinking about the  folk and fairy tales from all over the world that I love and share with classes and, sometimes, in conversation.  Generally, they are not sure exactly what happens when I tell a story, but they know they like it and they believe it has some power.

Here are three ways to tell stories that have power.

1) Choose a story that has power for you. You might notice this power as emotion, as energy, or as a vivid quality to your imagining of what it looks like, sounds like and feels like as it unfolds.  It is less likely that you are aware of the "meaning" of the story - if the "meaning" you want can be summed up in a few words, use those instead of a story.

2) Tell stories to share, encourage or inspire. Don't tell a story to convey a moral - if you want to lecture someone, just give them a lecture. Stories work by allowing listeners to enter states in which the…