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.


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!!

The Benefits of Anger

Aristotle said “Anyone can become angry – that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way – this is not easy.”

I was having lunch with my best female friend. We were eating lunch talking about our respective personal growth when she said:

“I still get angry.”

Without really thinking about it I blurted out: “People are always afraid or ashamed of their anger. “Anger is a very helpful emotion. What’s not helpful is violence.”

To my surprise and pride, she pulled out her digital device and said. “I want to write that down. That’s important!”

What the hell was I speaking about?

Well, it’s true. God or Nature or whoever or whatever designed humans gave us the emotion of anger for a reason. Anger has the potential to help us function well in the world.
So what is anger’s function and how can I use it to my best advantage?
Anger is there to give us a warning that danger may be present. Notice I said it may be present. It’s a signal to check. That’s the key. We need to check as soon as the anger develops. And that’s where anger can be a problem. Often we are not as in touch with our emotions as is ideal. So by the time we become aware of our anger it has built to a point where it is very tough to control.   And that’s when it can do great harm to ourselves and to others.

So, the key to using anger in a positive way is to be aware of our anger as soon as it starts to be present in our bodies. That way we can take action immediately to lower the danger or the pain that is causing the anger.

I repeat:

Anger is our early warning system that something is wrong and that we need to take actions to deal with the problem that has triggered the anger.

Actions to deal with our anger can be:

  • Going inside and asking ourselves: “what is irritating about the present circumstance I’m in and then adjusting in some way.
  • Moving away from a noise that is bothering me
  • Asking our partner for clarification of some action that she or he is taking that is irritating us.
  • Framing my judgment(s) about the irritating circumstance in a way that lowers my negative feelings about that circumstance.

That last bullet: Reframing my judgment(s) is tough.
The Dalai Lama has co-written a series of books called The Art of Happiness.  In these, he stresses that anger is the enemy of happiness.  So, it is important to minimize the negative aspect of anger by dealing with the cause of the anger. He speaks at great length about the benefits of compassion as a way to avoid feeling anger. Compassion for self and others is a key to re-framing our negative judgments in a way that moves us away from anger towards understanding and acceptance.
That’s the subject of a full article of its own.
But, how can I become aware of my anger as soon as it develops? Here is one way to improve your “anger early warning system”:
The next time you are angry notice everything you can about how you felt as you got angry. Even if you blew up, take a minute as soon as possible and think back to what sensations you felt inside your body that could warn you that anger is developing:

  •   Many people feel pain around the back of their neck or shoulders when they are angry.
  •   Others get tightness in their throat.
  •   Still others get fluttering in their stomach.
  • Others feel a tightness around their temples.

The key is to be aware of these or other physical sensations and then to check to see if they are, in fact a sign that something is annoying you. Soon, you’ll be able to use these physical sensations inside your own body as an early warning system that you are getting angry.
Dealing with anger requires that we become aware that we am becoming angry, identifying what we are irritated by and then taking actions to alleviate the irritation.
And the key to using anger as the signal it was designed to be is to be aware of our emotions at all times.
1. Be aware that you are angry as soon as you become angry.
2. As soon as you are aware of your anger act in a way that will lower your
irritation by either:
a. Acting gently to change the circumstance that is irritating to you (e.g. through a conversation or some other  non-violent action; or
b. Changing your judgment about that circumstance in a way that removes the source of the pain or sense that you’re in danger.

By following the steps above you will be harnessing the benefits of anger while lowering its negative effects.
Bruce Rosove is a Certified Career and Relationships Coach as well as a Certified Emotional Fitness Coach and Coach Instructor. He has studied Non-Violent Communication under Marshall Rosenberg, is certified in Neuro Linguistic Programming, and has level one training in Inner Journey Facilitation.  Bruce can be reached at: 613 233 8013 email: Blog:

Making Life More Meaningful (and Happy)

One of the keys to creating a happier more rewarding life is to do activities including work that have meaning for you.

We explore ways to do this at each Emotional Fitness coaching session.

An article by Steve Denning discusses the ideas of Chip Conley regarding meaningful work.  Conley says people need to find meaning both “at work” and “in” their work in order to increase their satisfaction or happiness with their work. By this he means, that two things need to be true for you:

* The actual work you are doing needs to be meaningful to you.
* The products and services you are helping create (the goals of the organization) need to be meaningful to you.

Creating situations that allow you to create more meaningful activities in each of the areas of your life is one of the themes of Emotional Fitness coaching.

To see Steve Denning’s article about Chip Conley’s ideas go here:

Empathy and Listening for a Successful Life and a Successful World

There has been a lot of interest in empathy of late. Jeremy Rifkin has written a best selling book, The Empathic Civilization in which he makes the case that humans are, by their very nature, empathic. He says that for human progress to continue we must tap into our natural inclination to be cooperative, compassionate and empathic …it is our cooperative, empathic nature that has made us such a successful species.

Others are discovering the importance of empathy. Medical schools are looking for ways to teach doctors to increase their empathy when working with patients and colleagues. One of the more successful methods is called Narrative Medicine. Developed by Doctor Rita Charon ( of Colombia University it focuses on the use of empathy in the practice of medicine with predictably positive results.

And recently there has been speculation on the empathic skills of President Obama as he leads America through the mid-term elections. Clearly, interest in empathy is growing.

So, what exactly is empathy? Empathy is the ability of one person to experience the feelings of another viscerally.

More precisely:

“When we feel empathy for someone we are getting emotional information about them and their situation. By collecting information about other people’s feelings, you get to know them better. As you get to know others on an emotional level, you are likely to see similarities between your feelings and theirs, and between your basic emotional needs and theirs. When you realize that someone else’s basic emotional needs are similar to yours, you are more able to identify with them, relate to them and empathize with them.” (

If I listen and observe you well I can actually gain an experience that mirrors how you are feeling. This can mean, for example, that if you have joy I will have empathic joy with you. Most parents have experienced this when one of their children has had a success or a happy event.

Similarly, one person can experience another’s pain.

We can each learn to be more empathic. I say more empathic because we are all born with a natural inclination to be empathic. We can see this, for example, in babies as they imitate people who interact with them.

Sadly, many of us have been taught that the world is a competitive place and that we must look out for number one or be trampled by the competition. This has led us to lose some of our inclination to be empathic. But we all search for connection with others, with a partner, with children, with friends, with colleagues and so on. This is another manifestation of our natural inclination to be empathic.

So, how can we learn to be more empathic? One key skill is to be good listeners. And listening is a skill that can be learned. There are several programs that have been designed to improve people’s ability to listen. One is Non-Violent Communication the Language of Compassion, developed by Marshall Rosenberg  ( Another is Listening Power, the foundational tool of the Emotional Fitness Institute founded by Warren Redman.

Non-Violent Communication is often referred to as “NVC”.

The basic building blocks of empathic listening using NVC are:

As a listener I:

1. Identify the situation event or circumstance the other person is describing;
2. State the feeling I imagine the person has in regard to that event or circumstance (mad, sad, glad, fear, guilt, shame etc.);
3. State the need I imagine the other person may have and
4. Ask the person what they’d like based on the above

There is a lot there. This process like any skill takes practice.

The second approach to empathy is the Emotional Fitness Institute’s Listening Power.

Here is how Listening Power works:

Element one: Total Focus on the Other Person

To be an empathic listener:
I must listen to the other person and totally focus on what they are saying. This is their time to be heard by me. The gift to me is hearing what they say completely and accurately.

Element two: A Five Step Structure

This structure helps me focus totally on the other person

Here is the structure:

When listening to another person:

1. Agree on a Contract for that conversation (how long, conditions etc.)
2. Identify the Topic
3. Ask Clarifying Questions (this and summarizing are the heart of listening but the first two steps are key to doing this successfully)
4. Summarize what I think I’ve heard and ask if this is correct
5. Once I’ve summarized accurately, support the person in finding appropriate actions

Both of these processes, NVC and Listening Power, are designed to help people be better listeners. If you use either of these tools you will become a more empathic listener.

Importance of Empathy to You

No matter who you are, listening effectively is going to help you with any relationship you may have or that you may want to create. Just on a human basis this will lead to stronger friendships, stronger business relationships and better relationships with those close to you.

I hope I’ve convinced you that using good listening skills can lead to gaining much more complete information on any topic.

This very brief discussion of two very powerful listening tools is intended to give you the bare essentials to help you become a more empathic listener. If you’d like more information, advice or to receive training in this area please contact Bruce Rosove (see contact information below).
Bruce is Certified as a Life Coach and Coach Instructor by the Emotional Fitness Institute. He is also certified in Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) by the American Board of Neuro Linguistic Programming. Prior to entering private practice, he worked for the Canadian Employment Service (part of HRSDC) designing policies and training counsellors in the use of the new counselling tools he developed.
Contact Bruce at:
Telephone: 613 233 8013 or Email:
This article copyright Bruce Rosove 2010-09-28 used by permission.

What is peace?

What is peace?  Perhaps it can best be defined and understood by looking at its opposite: violence.  Then looking at what strategies are needed to create the elements that make up peace and that avoid violence.  It also seems to me as I work on this list that what leads to peace also leads to happiness.  Please feel free to add words or word pairs that you see as relevant.

Peace Violence
  • integrity,
  • cooperation
  • sharing
  • reverence for the planet
  • trust
  • Love
  • Fulfilment
  • Agreement
  • Community
  • Empathy
  • Compassion
  • Untrustworthiness
  • Competition
  • Grabbing all for me/us
  • Disregard for the planet
  • Fear, lack of trust, distrust
  • Hate
  • Scrambling to live
  • Force
  • Everyone for him/herself
  • Disregard for others
  • Disregard for others

Happy Places

According to Richard Florida in his book Who’s Your City? [1] The following seven factors are critical to community satisfaction:

  • A good place to raise children;
  • A good place to meet people and make friends;
  • A place with physical beauty;
  • Good schools;
  • Parks and open space;
  • A safe place;
  • A good place for entrepreneurs and new businesses.

Also, based on a cluster analysis of all 26 separate dimensions of community satisfaction in the Place and Happiness Survey, the study found three clusters of factors to be key to our happiness in communities:

  • Smart and vibrant:
    • Local universities and colleges
    • Arts and culture
    • Vibrant nightlife
    • Availability of job opportunities in one’s field
    • A good place to meet people
    • A good place for young college grads, singles, entrepreneurs, artists and scientists
  • Aesthetics and liveability:
    • Physical beauty
    • Parks
    • Open space
    • Playgrounds and trails
    • Climate and
    • Air quality
  • Equity:
    • Affordable housing
    • Manageable traffic patterns
    • A good place for seniors and the poor

The author points out that these things are not frills.  We expect them from our communities.

[1] Florida, Richard, Who’s Your City? Vintage Canada (Random House) Toronto 2009 p 193,194.