The Joy of Conversation

The Joy of Conversation

By Bruce Rosove,

Conversation is an art form. But do people value being good at conversations ? Or more specifically, do people want to speak and listen and do they know how to do it well?

Conversation consists of both speaking and listening.

Listening is an art form. Many people pay a great deal just to be listened to. If you’ve ever gone to a coach, a counsellor a therapist, a doctor or even a dentist you know how important being listened to is. Imagine a dentist who does not listen to us before he or she starts work. He might drill or pull the wrong tooth! So listening is important. People value being listened to. But do people value being the listener? Or more specifically, do people want to listen and do they know how to do it well?

The answer varies.

How do you feel about listening to others? How do you feel about being listened to? Do you have a system that helps you listen well? Can you describe the process you use to make sure that you listen well and that your message is heard accurately?

There are at least two elements to good conversation skills. Focus, that is, giving your full attention to the other person and Structure. Both full attention and structure are key to having successful conversations.

The First Element: Focus

To focus, each person must give his/her full attention to the conversation.

This means that both need to let go of all their concerns and focus on the conversation. This is easy to say, harder to do. It takes effort.

So, if you are listening, listen with your full attention. Wait for the speaker to finish his or her thought. Let go of anything but paying attention to the speaker’s words. That is all. Do nothing but listen. Just listen!

And if you are speaking concentrate on offering a clear message and watch for signs that the other person wants to ask a question or to have something clarified. If you don’t pick up on this, your conversation partner will likely miss important information you are offering.

The second element of good conversation, structure, makes it much easier to focus.

The Second Element: Structure

By “structure”, I mean a set of stages in the interaction. Each stage has its role to play in making sure that, if we are listening we are listening attentively, assisting the speaker to get in touch with his or her wisdom and passion about the topic in question. If we are the speaker, structure helps us organize how we deliver our important message.
Being focused means we are speaking clearly and watching for signs from our listener that he or she needs to ask a question or clarify something. This structure helps us be attentive to our listener.

The Five Steps in a Conversation

1. Setting a Contract

Have you ever thought you were in a conversation only to discover that the other person did not really want to speak with you? Setting a contract is designed to make sure that both the listener and the speaker really want to have this conversation. It seems obvious, but, quite often one of the two people in this situation don’t want to talk right then.

Creating a contract for the conversation can be as simple as saying:

“Would you like to spend the next 10 minutes discussing this situation?”

The amount of time and other details of the agreement to have a conversation vary, of course. The key is to make sure the other person is open and able to take part in the conversation. Sometimes the invitation to converse leads to a plan for a conversation at a later time.

2. Identify the Topic
If the other person does agree you can move on to the next stage, Identifying the topic. Again, it seems obvious, but it is important to ensure that you both are clear on what the speaker wants to speak about and that the listener is open to discussing that topic.

It is up to the person wanting to speak to say what it is they’d like to discuss. And it’s up to the listener to reflect back to the speaker his/her understanding of what the topic is.

Once the topic is agreed to it’s time for the speaker to begin speaking about the topic.

As the conversation moves along, it is important to pause and give the listener a chance to ask clarifying questions. And that takes us to the next stage in the structure of a skillful conversation.

3. Clarifying Questions
Once the speaker has described enough of the situation that the listener thinks he or she has a sense of the message. Or if the listener realizes he/she is not clear about what the speaker has said, the listener asks questions either to confirm understanding or to get clarification if needed.

The listener will be asking questions that help him or her understand exactly what the speaker is saying. I often see this stage as the heart of the process. This is where you support the speaker to get in touch with exactly what he or she wants you to know. Often speakers will be surprised or pleased that this part of the conversation has helped them understand for themselves what they need or want. They get in touch with their own wisdom! This can be very empowering for the individual. It’s also very satisfying for the listener!

Note that if the listener has not understood what the speaker has said. Or if the understanding is only partly correct or complete, the speaker will clarify. This can take several sets of the speaker explaining, the listener asking clarifying questions and the speaker providing more information to make his or her message clearer.

The key is that you are both working to gain understanding. I sometimes think of this as a sort of “dance”.

4. Summarize
Once, you, as the listener, feel you have a good understanding of what the speaker has been explaining to you. It’s time to Summarize. This is the fourth stage in the structure. In this stage, Listeners summarize what they think the speaker has been telling them and ask the speaker whether they have got it right. Often the speaker will say that you’ve got it partly right. If that is the case you ask more clarifying questions and summarize again when you have a clearer picture. When the speaker tells you that your summary describes what they were trying to communicate you have completed this stage.

5 Deciding on What, if any, Actions to take.
Once the speaker feels he or she has been heard and understood by the listener, it is time to discuss whether any action is needed and who does what if actions are needed.
This can lead to another stage in the conversation.

The key is that each person in the conversation is heard and feels that he or she has been heard accurately.

Some more tips for Listeners.

In all stages

Ask open ended questions like: What do you think the problem is?
Avoid questions that start with the word “why”.
Questions that ask “where”, “when”, “how” “what” work well to help the speaker be more and more clear about what he or she is trying to explain or explore. These questions are especially useful in the Clarifying stage. But they can be useful in all stages.

In the Clarifying Questions stage

Do not ask questions that are action planning in disguise.

Questions like: “Have you tried x solution to your problem.”
Are action planning in disguise.

If you’re in the Action Planning stage you could ask:

“What would you like to do about (the problem that you have now identified).”

Where are the Conversation Skills Useful?

The skills I have outlined here are skills that we can all use. We don’t have to be professional listeners to benefit from listening in this way. Listening in this way can be of great value when you are doing a job search, when you’re doing research for a project or when you are in a conflict with a spouse, a child, a neighbour or a co-worker. Good conversation skills are important just about any time you are speaking with someone. Generally, the more important the conversation, the more important these skills are.

Good conversation Skills can bring a great deal of peace to your life and the life of those around you.

A Forgiving Walk

I walk for exercise. I walk on a busy street in Ottawa, Bank Street in the Glebe, because the sidewalks are clearer in the winter there than elsewhere.

One of my frustrations is that cars coming out of the side streets often ignore me as a pedestrian and block the crosswalk that is designed for pedestrians who are making their way across the side streets. The drivers are so intent on seeing whether there is car traffic moving back and forth on Bank that they forget or ignore the pedestrian traffic.

I’m good at being righteously indignant. I also have a strong belief that Ottawa, and cities in general, should make it as easy as possible for pedestrians, cyclists and transit users to get around the city. So my fear of the cars coming at me from the cross streets is accompanied by my righteous indignation because these unthinking drivers are making it dangerous for we pedestrians. Both my fear and my indignation lead to ANGER!

A few days ago I was preparing for a coaching session with a client. One of the processes I was preparing to work on with her is the Ho’oponopono Healing process which is a forgiveness process.

Saying this mantra:

I’m Sorry
Please Forgive me
Thank you
I love you

is a way of forgiving myself for my part in the hurt to myself or bad vibes or whatever the negative situation is. That’s all and that’s a lot. In saying these four phrases we are calling in, what I think of, as a healing energy. Others might call it Spirit, The Creator, etc. It is a way of surrendering and admitting that each of us creates our own reality, in small but significant ways.

I surprise myself when I say or write these words because I’m not religious in any conventional way. I do believe that there is much we humans do not understand about the magic of the world. When I consider the immense complexity of the spruce tree growing outside my window for example, I know there is much about my world I can’t explain. I saw it grow from a seed that happened to land there. How could that seed become a tree? We don’t know the answer.

Think of how complex that is.

Just as we don’t know how our sincerely saying:

I’m Sorry
Please Forgive me
Thank you
I love you

helps me let go of hurt and pain when something negative happens to me. We don’t know how calling in the healing energy of Ho’oponopono can heal negative feelings.

Now let me finish my story about my walk. I had been literally shouting at drivers who barged onto the cross walk just as I approached a cross street.

But when I started studying the ho’oponopono process I began to question my aggressive self-righteous behaviour. So the next day on my walk I was much calmer. And only in retrospect I realize that not one car encroached on the cross walks as I approached them and several cars did come to the intersections at the same time as I did. I was not even aware of the difference in the way drivers were acting until the evening of that day when I reflected about this whole episode to my men’s group. It was only then that I realized what a difference my different behaviour/attitude seemed to make.

So, I really benefited from my changed attitude. I really benefited from living the forgiveness or trusting way of Ho’oponopono.

I know each of us can. Much love. Thank you. Please forgive me and I love you!!

Some of What A Woman Needs In Her Man

One of the key things a woman needs in her man is to be able to depend on him to “see” her. This means a man needs to identify, understand and meet his partner’s needs through his actions.

What does this look like?

Well, just now my wife is preparing Christmas dinner. She looked in her store of food and realized she did not have the canned oranges that she needed. They come sectioned and ready to add to a salad.

I noticed that we have a bunch of tangerines and mentioned this. She replied that she did not want to have to peel them. So I offered to peel and section them. It took me only a few minutes. But it lightened her load and, I hope, helped her feel honoured for the work she is doing to prepare a special meal for all of our family.

This is a small example. What are the elements?

1. My wife had a need.
2. I identified the need
3. I offered to do something to help her achieve what was needed.
4. I did what she needed done after asking how she wanted the tangerines peeled.

It’s that simple. And it’s that hard. Often the need is not as obvious as in the example above.

So, what are some needs that we, as husbands and partners can watch for and help resolve?

Here are some:
-A need for a clean and tidy home;
-Care for the children;
-Recognition of the partner’s efforts;
-Financial security;
-Physical security;
-Love and respect communicated in words and deeds;
-To have their feelings heard and acknowledged;

What needs does your partner seem to want you to meet?

If you’re not sure, ASK!

Comments from both men and women are invited!!

Three “Communities” That Could Benefit From Each Other: Creativity, Personal Development and Peace.

Originally posted on This Makes Me Happy!!!:

One of the themes I’ve been working on lately is to cross-fertilize three communities that I feel have a great deal to learn from each other.

They are:  The Creativity Community

The Personal Development/Spirituality Community and

The Conflict Resolution or Peace Community

I use the word “community” in the singular in each case but there are many versions of each of these community categories.

The Creativity Community for me includes:

The Creative Problem Solving Institute (CPSI)   http://www.cpsiconference.com/   (CPSI) and a whole range of other conferences that seem to all owe their beginnings to CPSI.

CPSI is a conference that has been running for close to 60 years now.  It was started by an advertising executive Alex F. Osborn.  Osborn developed a creative problem solving process using applied imagination and deferment of judgment enabling as many ideas as possible to be expressed (group use of this principle was called Brainstorming). Dr…

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Peace and Violence in Animals and Humans

In Payback: Why We Retaliate, Redirect Aggression and Take Revenge, authors Barash and Lipton, explore the role of violence in both human and animal societies.  Barash is a professor of psychology and an evolutionary biologist.  Lipton is a psychiatrist who has specialized in the biology of human behaviour.

One thing is clear from reading Payback:  both animals and humans do all three of what the authors call the three R’s: Retaliation, Redirected Aggression and Revenge.  Or, at least, humans do all three.  Animals clearly do retaliate and exhibit redirected aggression.  It’s less clear whether they take revenge.    For humans it is clear that both justice (that is the perpetrator being found guilty and punished) and redirected aggression:

 “re-establish the social status of, as well as the internal balance of, an offended party, diminishing the initial victim’s stress by subordinating someone else.  This may help explain why so many crime victims respond to exculpatory evidence with outrage rather than gratitude that an innocent person has been spared.  It also illuminates why forgiveness is so difficult, despite the ardent recommendations of the world’s greatest ethical and religious leaders.” (p. 19 Barash and Lipton)

Barash and Lipton then go on to site many examples of animals exhibiting retaliation and re-directed aggression. 

 So humans come by their tendency to retaliate, redirect aggression and take revenge from their, that is, our, animal antecedents.  So, to what can we attribute the fact that we mostly control these three tendencies?  I suggest that it is our ability to reason that helps us with this.  Because of our ability to imagine the impact of different behaviours, we have learned to control our initial impulse to retaliate, redirect our aggression or take revenge.  We understand that the three R’s as the authors dub them, can lead to negative consequences that in the long run are worse than acting in a more peaceful, controlled manner. 

And yet, we are hard wired to retaliate, redirect our aggression or take revenge.  That is why there is human on human violence in the world. 

So is the glass half full or half empty?  Should we be pleased that we humans are less violent than we might be, or should we be saddened that we have not used our reasoning ability and our ability to imagine the future more effectively to eliminate all violence? 

 Either way it is interesting to also look at ways that we humans have found to avoid violence.

In their last chapter, titled “Overcoming” the authors briefly describe eleven tools that we humans have invented to overcome our tendency to “pass pain on”. 

 Here’s their list:

 Tool 1: Calls on the person who has been hurt to forgive.  (The Jewish Bedtime Shema)

Tool 2::Love your enemies, refrain from retaliation, don’t pass the pain on.  Forgive. (The Christian Sermon on the Plain)

Tool 3: The Twelve Steps (The Way of AA)

Tool 4 Ghandian Nonviolence

Tool 5: Buddhist Vows

Tool 6: Breathing Meditation

Tool 7a: Original Tit for Tat (The Game Theorist’s Way)

Tool 7b: Generous Tit for Tat

Tool 8: Passing Gain Along (The Economist’s Way)

Tool 9: Psychiatric Responses

Tool 10: Self Protection (Get out of abusive or corrupt relationships)

Tool 11: Forgiveness Protocol

 Finally, the authors offer a Principle for Minimizing Pain

 Here’s their shorter version:

 “When evaluating alternative actions, I will ask myself whether each is likely to increase or decrease the total amount of pain in the world, and I will always choose the latter.” (Page 199 Barash and Lipton).

In order to explore this topic further, I’ve decided to do a full article on each of these tools as I find more material on each.  This topic and these tools have captured my attention!!

If anyone wishes to provide input please feel free to do so.  I’ll be most grateful!!

Reference for this article is:

Payback: Why we Retaliate, Redirect Aggression and Take Revenge, David P. Barash and Judith Eve Lipton, Oxford University Press, 2011. 

 

 

 

 

What, Exactly, Do We Mean When We Speak About Peace?

As much as I love the idea of peace and know that I am in favour of peace, when asked to explain what I mean by peace I have trouble.

So, I have set myself the task of seeking a way to understand what “peace” means to me in the hope that I’ll be able to explain the concept of peace to others.

Positive and Negative Peace

One of the first distinctions I have discovered is the notion of positive and negative peace.

Negative peace is the lack of violence and war. This can be created through the use of force. Galtung, one of the leading peace scholars, suggests that the use of coercive power by, for example, the U.N. or one or more countries to support or enforce a cessation of violence, are examples of negative peace.

This type of power may be used as a step towards positive peace. But it is not creating positive peace in and of itself.

According to Galtung, positive peace is “the integration of society”. This requires improved understanding between humans, through communication, peace education, dispute resolution, conflict management and arbitration etc.

In an analogy to health: Curative Medicine is equivalent to negative peace and Preventive medicine is analogous to positive peace.

We need to look at the conditions for absence of violence as well as the conditions for positive peace. (Interesting that we don’t have another term for positive peace other than “peace”; while we do have the term “absence of violence” for negative peace.)

So we still have not said what positive peace is.

Positive peace is emancipatory (i.e. positive peace creates freedom).

A Culture of Peace:

1998 UN resolution on the culture of peace:

“A culture of peace is an integral approach to preventing violence and violent conflicts, and an alternative to the culture of war and violence based on:

- education for peace,

- the promotion of sustainable economic and social development,

- respect for human rights,

- equality between women and men,

- democratic participation,

- tolerance,

- the free flow of information and

- disarmament.

My definition of Peace:

Peace exists in a society or community when the members of the society are able to achieve healthy fulfillment in their personal and professional lives in ways that do not interfere with the healthy fulfillment of others in their society or community.

So, what is healthy fulfillment? Hmm…. By healthy fulfillment I mean achievements that add to the physical, emotional, spiritual or intellectual health of the individual and/or the community or society.

Having struggled with these concepts for a while I am coming to the conclusion that positive peace cannot exist without the support of negative peace.

In other words, positive peace exists when trust, cooperation and adherence to a set of norms and behaviours that provide the opportunity for fulfillment have been agreed to by the society and are being respected by members of the society, country or, ideally, the whole world.

But, as far as I know there is no example where these conditions are not protected or enforced by a set of laws and enforcing bodies such as a police force or army to, in effect, enforce these norms.

So, while I and others work to create positive peace in my life and in the world in general. I need to acknowledge that we need some form of force to support the peace we all cherish. With good will and hard work, force will not need to be used. And importantly, when force is used it must be used according to rules agreed to by the society as a whole. If these societally endorsed rules (i.e. laws) are not respected and followed, we get violence.

References:
Johan Galtung Positive and Negative Peace Baljit Singh Grewal Aug. 30 2003