Chapter 6. Conversation and Conversions

 People don’t “truly converse” anymore, unless it is for work, business, on TV or in political forums. But one-on-one conversing seems to have disappeared. So what do we have in its place? Well, people pretend to agree, while smiling obsequiously. They may nod and say “yes” or “absolutely” when they are unsure or are thinking “no” – but refrain from sharing their converse opinion one-on-one for fear of disagreement and possible conflict.

This is what conversation is to me. Not chit chat, small talk or gossip, but con-ver-sation, as in “conversely speaking” or “on the converse”.

So where has conversing gone? Heck, when I point out what I think conversing is really for, some look at me dumbfounded, as though I were speaking a different language.

I think that we have collectively spent so long in this non-conversing state that if/when this conversing takes place, it ends up much more in conflict, as an argument or bitter dispute, than an actual conversation or discourse. Most people seem to be out of practice and have forgotten the rules of engagement. Many have never learned them in the first place. I have to admit I am not in much better shape and could do with a lot more practice.

How long has this been going on? For too long!

And since there is very little real conversation, it is no wonder there are so many failed marriages, conflict with workmates, and generally no relationship that I have ever aspired to emulate, save one. Lacking a forum to air grievances, make complaints or add constructive criticisms without the fear of the situation escalating, abuse become a real possibility in most people’s minds, and discourages them from what I call “conversing”.

From the Start: In 1988, I asked a young woman I worked with what she thought a conversation was for. Startled by the question, she told me that she thought that I was f#%ked, but in a nice sort of way. We both had a giggle and talked about something else. But I was serious at the time, and had pondered the answer to such a question for some years previously, although I had never actually put it into words. After asking the question, I was off to a flying start and from then on, I kept an eye out for an answer to such a simple, yet important, thought. Only now, some 23 years on, do I consider I have an answer that could change my world.

Conversations and Conversions: I guess one of the reasons that this journey has been so time consuming and difficult for me is that agreements and conversations are so inextricably linked. To convert better agreements, we need better conversations; and to achieve better conversations, we need to convert better agreements. Also, it wasn’t until I truly understood the semantic meaning of “conversation” that I could move forward with my quest.

When I looked at “conversation” in the context of such terms as “on the converse” and “conversely speaking”, I found a key. The meaning of these terms is that we come from opposite positions and exchange conflicting concepts. From this position, I have taken conversation to mean that we aim to convert our own concepts so that we get a convergence of ideas or a conversion that we call agreements and from that, possible solutions to our problems. Then our goal is to make this an ongoing and evolving process for the duration of the relationship. This was a real breakthrough for me and my brother, Steve. It showed us how to approach conversation, especially with the emphasis on aiming to convert our own concepts and not the other’s.

Converting Our Own Concepts, not Other People’s: Recently I made an agreement with Steve, my brother, that we only convert our own concepts and not each other’s. I think the reason that we have a conversation is to convert. Not to convert people or their ideas, but to convert our own concepts through their feedback, and to get agreements and possible solutions.

I have a feeling that this is the keystone or foundation that can make a relationship work smoothly. It is what I have been looking for, over the last 26 years.

I believe that most people try to convert the other person as well as their own concepts. In fact, Steve admitted as much to me when I asked him what he thought conversation was for. I think I was guilty of this also. By mutually agreeing not to try to convert each other’s concepts, it allows us a point of reference if either one of us breaches our agreement. Trying to influence the other’s behavior creates a conversation feedback loop, with both of us trying to convert the other, and an argument or fight subsequently occurs. The more we try to achieve conversion of the other, the more problems we have during the conversation.

Trying to convert only our own concepts, so that the other person can understand and agree with them, takes much more time and effort, and also a belief that it is possible, but I think the results are more beneficial in the long term. This takes an agreement, as well as the discipline to delay our gratification. Trying to convert or convince the other is an attempt to remove dissent and diversity in their thinking, and it produces conformity and clones through acquiescence especially when coercion is used.

It has taken me over 26 years to get to this point. Having this agreement in place with Steve should help us get along better, I think. We’ll see.

Finally, I think the key to a fruitful conversation is to be willing to always consider the other person’s feedback, especially if we do not agree with it. Once again, this encourages diverse views by raising questions and answers that we may not have considered before, and allows us to refine our own concepts even further, rather than focusing on trying to convert or convince them.

Conversing and Creativity on Steroids: I started out on this quest to discover a better way to relate, but in the process I may have also discovered a better way to create or convert concepts. In the past, creative movements such as the Bauhaus, Impressionism, Heidelberg School, The Manhattan Project and the Apollo Programs were created out of a desire to achieve a single goal. Find a goal, preferably an inspirational one, that will harness peoples’ ego in their quest to achieve it. By ego, I mean our desire to be always right and thinking that we are. Then work together towards achieving this goal of learning, and we have creativity. These types of creative movements do not occur very often, have a specific location and are dependent on finding a very inspirational goal.

But what if we could reverse engineer these creativity movements, so that we learned how to harness the ego? Not by distracting the ego with an inspirational goal, but through reasoning. What if we could simply explain what the ego is and discover and explain the method used to harness it? Rethink Perfect is my proposal to harness the ego, reduce the possibility of conflict and aggression, and possibly encourage diverse and creative thinking. Like creativity, conflict starts with a spark, but instead of fanning its flames, we need to extinguish the spark of conflict as soon as possible. In Ken Robinson’s book
“Out of Our Minds – Learning to be Creative” he says:

“Creativity flourishes when there is a systematic strategy to promote it. The cultural environment should be modeled on the dynamics of intelligence. Many organisations stifle creativity in the structures they inhabit and the ethos they promote. If the ideas are discouraged or ignore, the creative impulse does one of two things. It deserts or subverts the organisation.”

Basically, what I am saying is that the sharing of diverse and dissenting views can be one of the best tools for assisting the creative process. Having agreed rules of engagement in place
“a systematic strategy”, to define how we converse can lead to more productive conversing and innovation. It is no coincidence that these creative movements were location based which leads me to believe they were founded on prolific sharing of ideas face to face. Just imagine how many conversations must have taken place to influence each participant in these movements or projects. Without these conversations, would such creative periods in our history ever have existed? Somehow, I doubt it. Now imagine we had an improved method of conversing that facilitated the converting of concepts even more. Conversing on steroids! Well, I guess I am hoping that someday Rethink Perfect will be able to do just that.

Conversation, Creativity and Converting Our Concepts: In Alan Rowe’s book Creative Intelligence, he states: “A quantum leap is needed to deal with changing external forces”, and goes on to say that “Leaders who are concerned with significant change need to convince their organisations to accept new ideas”. Now some or most of you will probably agree with this, but I don’t. What I am about to propose, I think, is potentially a quantum leap that can nurture the creative intelligence that he mentions.

I don’t think that we need to convince organisations, nor convert anyone in them. I think we need to convert our own concepts only, through the feedback from the people in these organisations. This is not the same thing. I think this is the paradigm shift in how we converse with each other. Understanding that the conversation is composed of converse ideas where we are conversely speaking. We are not in agreement. We are using the conversation to form agreements. But by converting our own concepts and not others’ during conversation, we can approach the conversation with a completely different attitude. If we are trying to convince others, we spend more time trying to convert their ideas and not our own. It is a very static, dogmatic and egoistic approach that is similar to the title of Edward de Bono’s book, I Am Right You Are Wrong. However, de Bono had his tongue firmly placed in his cheek when choosing this title. The best thing about Rethink Perfect is that we can even use the views of people that are trying to convert us, as long as we can Appreciate their contribution. Then we apply the last 3 As of the 6A framework and ask them to explain their views in ways that will encourage us to help them.

Rowe goes on to say, “Using the right words is especially important when trying to convince employees to accept personal risk. This is more easily said than done.” I agree with you, Alan. I think making the shift from “converting or convincing others” to “converting or convincing ourselves” is the quantum leap in our vocabulary that is needed for the twenty first century.

The Right Words Needed: Even in the recently published book Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions by Guy Kawasaki, his title gives away what I call the old twentieth century way of thinking. A good read, but still his goal is to change the hearts, minds and actions of others. Guy references the old classic by Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People (1934), which also falls into this category of what I call “old school thinking”. What I am advocating is the next step in our development that we achieve by asking ourselves, “What can I say and do to get others to help me change my concepts and ideas?” My version of Kawasaki’s book would be called The Art of Using Conversation to Change My Own Heart, Mind and Actions, and it would show how to use others’ diverse ideas to stimulate one’s own creativity.

I’m the only person I know who has this idea about Conversation and Conversions, and I certainly could be wrong – I am open to any feedback. I only have one agreement on this concept so far, and it is yet to be fully tested, especially within interpersonal relationships. So I am not trying to convince anyone here. What I am saying is if anyone can help me convert my concept further, I would be truly grateful to receive your diverse feedback or dissent.

Your Feedback is Much Appreciated: By this stage, you probably liked some of the things I have mentioned and disliked other parts. For some, much of it probably sounded Greek to you. Great! Please feel free to send me an email or use the feedback box on my blog to share your thoughts and questions.  After all, I am writing this to convert my concepts, not to try converting you, right? I can also give you feedback on your concepts to help you convert them into possible agreements and new solutions for us both. This is, and will probably always be, a work in progress. The main idea of this chapter is that conversation can be so much more than what we have thought in the past. It was through conversations that the USA was able to put a man on the moon. The country plotted a goal, having possibly millions of conversations that helped them convert their concepts, and made their idea a reality 10 years later.

Your feedback is very much appreciated and always worth considering: So how will I know if someone is trying to convert me rather than trying to convert their own ideas from my feedback? I guess it doesn’t really matter, as it might well be that any feedback is worth considering – either to help correct my concept or shore up my argument that old thinking tries to convert others, and new thinking tries to convert our own thinking. Let’s see which one you have or if you disagree with this concept, and why.

If someone is really seeking feedback, they will tell me what they are doing and why. When someone is seeking to convert me, they will tell me what I should be doing and how to do it. Or they will use emotionally-charged language that is not adjustable or accountable, and therefore is unacceptable to me. This type of expression is designed to prime me into acquiescing  of their view. However, if someone feels like it is necessary to try to convert me, it might possibly be because they feel that I am trying to convert them. By using Appreciation, Acknowledging and Apology, I can relieve this. If we agreed to use the Dispute Moderator, we could simply refer to it if we felt lost. I suppose that if I continue to remind them and myself that I do not want to convert them, but rather get their feedback to convert my concepts, it should help me relieve their fear and allow them to simply give me feedback on what I am doing, and vice versa.

Feedback Loops: It is no wonder that the art of conversation is lost, since “feedback” comprises such an important other half of conversation.

How can we disagree with feedback? Of course logically, we can’t disagree with its content as it is only someone else’s reflection on our thought or action. What we can disagree with is the delivery. This is basically the premise that the concept of Rethink Perfect rests on. That if we could agree upon this and had the tools to help filter the feedback delivery from the content, we could possibly find ourselves listening to well-delivered feedback that could represent the pure thought of another person. This could change life as we know it.

“Does my bum look big in this?” is the joke that everyone in a relationship can identify with, especially us blokes. Most men, I believe, live in perpetual fear of saying the “wrong” thing.

The question is kind of a trap. You see she didn’t ask him what he thinks, which would have been an easier question to answer. She asked him a general question or what the world would think of her bum. By answering “yes” at that point, he is going to be in trouble because his feedback content and delivery is flawed. I bet you agree with me on his fate. But real issues arise because he can get in “trouble” in the first place. He is not a six-year-old boy that stole sixpence. He contributed his flawed feedback. This should first and foremost be appreciated.

So, what is it that made his delivery flawed? Well, as mentioned, I do not believe that we can disagree with the content of his remark as it is only his opinion. His delivery was flawed because he did not emphasise that he was expressing his opinion, i.e., “I think it does look big” or “to me it looks big”. (I can’t help but snigger as I write this). Even if he had answered “no” it would still have been flawed feedback in the delivery, and he would possibly suffer for this answer too, sometime later.

I think that if we can learn to understand this principle of splitting up feedback into content and delivery, and not disagree or agree with the content but only return our feedback on their delivery, some very interesting results could be achieved in conversation. The conversing treasure, that has been lost for so long, could return along with the gems of creative ideas that “real” and diverse conversation can form.

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