Dr Nick Heap – an authority in the art of conversation – discusses its very essence, and also takes it to the next level and explores “Eye-Opening Conversations.”
Words create worlds. We can have better lives and make a better world by having different conversations. Too many habitual conversations involve grumbling, blaming, cynicism or despair. These just make us feel bad and powerless. It does not have to be this way. Here are some simple examples of conversations that open your eyes and lift your spirits. These are easy and enjoyable.
Conversations to lift your spirits.
Do this at the beginning of a meeting. Ask people, in turn, to say “Something nice that’s happened lately”. You get what you enquire into, so a positive story makes you feel positive.
Conversations that make you happy.
In pairs, or a small group “Tell a story about a time when you were happy and another when you made someone else happy?” Then talk about how you felt sharing and hearing those stories. This makes you happy. You learn there are many ways to be happy and how lovely it is to make others happy.
Conversations that give you confidence.
In pairs or a small group ask people to “Tell a story about something you did that you are proud about. What one (or two) strengths did you use? What strengths did the other people in the group notice? Which strength do you like the best?” When you accept that your strength is valuable and real it grows.
Conversations that help you create what you hope for together.
Take turns to say “What sort of world would you like our/your great-great grandchildren to inherit?” Please answer in just one or two words. When everybody has had a turn, what would it be like to know you had helped to bring about this world? People tend to want compatible things and it’s good to discover this. Most people want a peaceful, just, healthy and sustainable world. The next step is to work together to get there.
I have had these conversations with friends and strangers and always found them enjoyable and well-received. It feels scary to take the initiative, but it’s just fear. Nothing but good has ever happened. There has been much learning.
I hope some of you will try these ideas for yourselves. The results will surprise and inspire you.
More on Happiness
It’s probably easiest to start sharing stories with a friend or group of friends. It’s fun and you will get to know each other better.
Sharing stories about times when you were happy and when you made someone else happy will work just as well with a big group. Just get people into small groups of four or five. I ran an event for fifty people from different cultures and it was a delight.
I used the same exercise at the start of a meeting to build the relationship between people from two organisations. The people realised how much they had in common and this helped them build strong mutual cooperation and trust. This helped them listen to each other and work better together. We need more of this.
More on creating what you hope for together
I have found that when you have enough trust and connection people do want the same things. It takes time and a long view. I like to ask, “Suppose it’s two or more years time and as you go to work/school/your town etc. you give a little skip because it is so good, what would be happening to make you feel that way?” There may well be some people who are so hurt by abuse, disappointment or addiction to money or power that they can’t do the imaginative work. I haven’t come across any personally.
When someone listens to you well you start to express the thoughts and feelings that are inside you. Your thinking becomes clearer and more powerful and you feel energised because someone has shown you that you are worth listening to. So, you are valuable.
When you listen to someone else, as well as helping that person, you also start to understand what he or she needs and what makes her or him tick. This will make that person much easier to work with in any role or setting.
The really difficult things about listening well are not technical. Sitting still, paying attention, giving warm eye contact, asking good questions, not interrupting or talking about yourself are not difficult in the sense of requiring years of study.
The difficult thing about listening is to decide to do it and to give up, temporarily, what most of us want to do, which is to talk! This need can be so strong that we interrupt, switch off, jump to conclusions and finish people’s sentences as we rush to speak.
One simple and elegant solution to this is to take turns! Two people can listen to each other, perhaps ask questions to help the talker think more broadly, for say half an hour each way. This simple process will help both parties think more clearly and act more powerfully. It’s surprisingly effective.
Taking turns works just as well in groups. Just ask everybody in a small group to share their best thinking about a topic, while everybody else just listens. Two or three minutes each is usually enough. This is a very nice way to increase the amount of listening in an organisation too.
Finding out more
Appreciative Inquiry has the key idea that “Words create worlds” and the power of a positive question: (bit.ly/appqcmm)
For understanding of human nature, our essential goodness, the effects of being hurt and how we can recover our true selves, see the theory of Re-evaluation Counselling: (rc.org)
Pierre Theilhard de Chardin’s “The Phenomenon of Man” talks about the evolution of humanity to a higher level of collective consciousness: bit.ly/thphnmn
More on Happiness: bit.ly/Hpnss
More on Strength Building (Conversations that build confidence): bit.ly/strgthb
More on Vision Building: bit.ly/vsnbldg
More about Listening: bit.ly/listnng and more on Listening in Groups in Nancy Kline’s “More Time to Think”: bit.ly/mrtmtth
More on Coconsulting, taking turns to listen to each other: bit.ly/ccnstlng
There is more about Cheeky Questions (Taking turns asking questions to get to know each other better): bit.ly/chkyqstn
There are more articles about how to have better conversations on my website: bit.ly/prctcldv
If you have any comments or questions on any of this or need more information, please contact me directly. I will be glad to hear from you.
Nick Heap 01707 886553 and 07879 861525 and email@example.com