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.

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

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. 

 

 

 

 

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

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. Sidney J. Parnes further refined Osborn’s work, resulting in what is commonly referred to as the Osborn-Parnes Creative Problem Solving process (CPS).

A long list of conferences have followed in the footsteps of CPSI.  One of my favourites is Mind Camp that happens north of Toronto every year.  There are many others.  See http://www.conferencealerts.com/creative.htm for a list.

There are also a whole range of companies that specialize in providing services to help organizations increase their creativity.

The Personal Development Community for me includes:

Coaching and counselling practices of many types; personal development organizations like the ManKind Project, http://mankindproject.org/ ; the Inner Journey  http://www.innerjourneycanada.com/ ; The Oneness University; Yoga; Chi Gong and many others.  In fact there is a huge variety of approaches to personal growth and healing.

The Conflict Resolution/Peace Community for me includes:

Mediation; Peace groups of many types, e.g. The Canadian Peace Initiative ; Civilian Peace Service Canada; USAID; many of the offices of the United Nations and so on.

What these three communities:

  •  The Creativity Community
  • The Personal Development/Spirituality Community and
  • The Conflict Resolution or Peace Community

have in common is that to be successful they need to help people develop new perspectives and behaviours.  The growth is related to personal growth as distinct from growth of knowledge.  It’s not book learning we’re speaking about here.  It’s a change in how each person sees the world and his or her relationship to the world.  These are profound changes people need to make.

I see these three communities as being mutually synergistic.

So, I like to challenge myself and those I interact with by asking:

1.  Do you agree that these three “communities” have a lot to offer each other?

2.  If yes, what can you and I do to make use of each others’ knowledge and activities?

If no, are you willing to learn more about one of the other two communities to see if there is a benefit?

 I’m looking forward to your comments…..!

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.
Conclusion:
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.
Summary:
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: Bruce.Rosove@Rogers.com Blog: http://ThisMakesMeHappy.wordpress.com/

Is Silence Golden?*

I’m at Blue Skies, a music festival that started out 38 years ago as a picnic.  It’s a collection of music, holistic workshops and lots of friends.

I’ve been through a catharsis here that I want to share with you.

It all started on the Saturday morning when Maike burst out “I have to go to the workshop on Ho’Oponopono[1], the Hawaian forgiveness process”.  I didn’t react immediately.  But 10 minutes later I realized I needed/wanted to be there too.  I walked through the woods to the Teepee where about 50 people were listening to a man and woman explain that when we have a conflict we are to ask for forgiveness of the other in the following way:

I’m sorry.

Please forgive me.

Thank you.

I love you.

Flash to the next morning, Sunday.  Ferron, the famous female singer has performed Saturday night.  Now she is giving a workshop on songwriting.  There are many, perhaps a 100, people in this open air workshop.  She explains that she writes songs by going deep into herself looking for stories that move her.  She calls this going into deep water.  Then she asks people from the audience to tell stories about their lives.  Members of the mostly female audience respond one at a time and I start crying.  None of the men in the audience get up.  I’m crying and don’t really know why.

Finally, near the end of the workshop one man speaks and asks a question.  Ferron responds.  By now I have been raising my hand to speak a few times.  I want to speak.  I want to share my sense of vulnerability that as a man I don’t feel safe sharing my most vulnerable moments the way Ferron has been guiding the women to do.

I call out, “Ferron”.  I have a loud voice and she responds.

I say, “As a man I don’t feel safe speaking about my most vulnerable moments.”  I’m holding back tears at this point.  She asks me to say more and I say that it’s important for women to know that men don’t feel they can make themselves vulnerable as they will lose the respect of women who want them to be there to protect and provide for them.  I don’t know if I said it quite that way, but that was the message I wanted to convey.  In retrospect I realize that I had been inspired by the Ho’Oponopono workshop to not blame men for being less open than women.

Perhaps the reason I had been crying was because I feel men are judged for not being open about their feelings.  I was lashing out in a way, telling this mostly female audience that I did not want them to judge men negatively for being less open than women tend to be.

Ferron was wonderful.  She said, “We are fighting the same war.”  It was a special moment for me.  She called me up from my seat where I’d been until then and we hugged.

The audience erupted in loud applause and I felt heard.

The workshop ended shortly after that.  Several people came up to me to thank me for speaking out.  One woman spoke to me about her son who she was worried about.  Somehow my sharing had helped her.  Other women just offered thanks.

One man came to me and wanted to speak at length.  We ended up back at my spot in a shelter at the festival and exchanged contact information.  I spoke to him about the Mankind Project and the New Warrior Training Adventure.  He lives in Toronto so he may take the weekend in October.

It’s hard to evoke the deep and profoundly moving emotions that course through me as this story unfolded.  It was a gift to me to be able to speak about my vulnerability, vulnerability and fear, that I perceive to exist in most men and to be heard by a strong, famous, feminist, public figure like Ferron.  The Blue Skies Music Festival Program describes Ferron as “the Johnny Cash of lesbian folk singing”.

Her support of men in opening ourselves up means a lot to me.

Bruce Rosove

____________________________________________________________

 *I have two reasons for calling this article Is Silence Golden?  The first is an obvious reference to the silence of men regarding sharing vulnerable moments.

The second is that I had sat reviewing the experience described here for almost a week, somehow unable to motivate myself to write it up as I had decided to do.  Then, the Friday after Blue Skies ended and the last day at our rented cottage I heard the song “Silence is Golden” by the Tremolos and I started crying uncontrollably.  I don’t know why, but my crying motivated me to sit down and write what you see above.


[1] The Ho’Oponopono Workshop was offered by Krow Fischer and Dave Curtis web http://www.hereonearth.ca

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: Bruce.Rosove@Rogers.com Blog: http://ThisMakesMeHappy.wordpress.com/