Every month I read a book to expand my understanding, to help me develop. The pages I have leafed through in these last weeks have been concerned with the nature of interactions, conversations and personal preconceptions, namely Fierce Conversations and Leadership and Self Deception. These texts are well worth a read and a ponder….
One message rose above the rest, because of its simplicity and great consequence. Conversation and relationship are synonymous.
I had always acknowledged that my great relationships yield wonderful conversations. I had not consciously acknowledged though that, in reality, the relationship is the conversation and the conversation is the relationship, not a cause and consequence, but one and the same. Every single conversation has the potential to instigate significant connection and the capability of creating change, but that doesn’t mean every conversation will – the nature and potential of the conversation is, of course, dependent on you and me.
Reflecting on this idea, I was struck how words can be used without choice, carelessly, almost outside of ‘conversation’, and how there really is a great art in speaking and listening, which is taken for granted. There is value in the way we converse and how receptive we are to those we speak with. I realised that paying greater attention to each and every conversation I have, from the girl next to me on the train to conversations with my husband, could really change my outlook and life in profound ways.
I strive to be authentic and generous in my character. I believe strongly in the power of being honest in who you are. I could see, as I read these books, the value and gift we each have in actively and honestly listening to others, without agenda or preconception. As I paid more attention to my inner dialogue, I realised that often I hear a filtered internal translation of what was being said, distorted by my own thoughts. So I have begun to learn to listen more openly, to give of my heart and spirit in the act of listening and speaking honestly…developing my own art of conversation.
Listening is an act of love
The power of open and honest conversation is beautifully demonstrated in the archives of the American independent non-profit organization StoryCorps. Their mission is to “provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share, and preserve the stories of our lives”. To this end they have collected tens of thousands of people in conversation. Their old tag line ‘Listening is an act of love’ is vividly poignant. BBC radio and the British Library have embarked upon a UK counterpart called The Listening Project “capturing the nation in conversation to build a unique picture of our lives today and preserve it for future generations”. It is a beautifully powerful endeavour. If you are interested, you can listen online – get started with the presenter Fi Glover’s favourites.
Don’t hang up…or log off
In listening to these conversations I was reminded of a quirkier but equally fascinating study of conversation I heard back in 2011:Don’t Log Off. Alan Dein makes conversations with different people all over the world, talking about their lives and thoughts late at night via Facebook and Skype. Whatever medium we converse in, the conversation matters.
So I challenge myself to make every conversation I have more genuine. I challenge myself to ask questions I have not asked before and to listen with love and really hear the words and meaning, unfiltered, and share my own thoughts with honesty. Will you join me?
What great conversations have you had or wish you could have?