What’s happening, really?

Sally, a small business owner, shares an idea with an employee, Joe, who furrows his brow as she speaks. Sally assumes that the young man is ready to criticize what she is saying and gets defensive. She begins to build a case in her mind about Joe. “He reacts negatively to any ideas I bring up about the business. I am the boss around here. He should just do what I tell him.” (In her … Read more…

Generative Generosity

You know lots of ways to be generous. You open doors, offer your seat, donate to charities and sometimes even share your lunch. Generosity might not be a word you normally associate with how you interact with others, but it is an important and generative quality to bring to the table. You are generous when you pay attention to what others are saying and work hard to understand it. You are generous when you share … Read more…

Possibilities of Good Conversation

“I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center.” — Kurt Vonnegut When I asked a group of 50 members of the Silicon Valley Organization Development Network during my presentation in June about the role of good conversations in creating change, here is what some of them said: Encouraging collective wisdom to emerge … Read more…

Basics Still Matter

Rae Levine, a longtime colleague and friend, with whom I taught meeting management once looked at me in faux disbelief and asked, “Is there anyone left on the planet who does not know how to define desired outcomes for a meeting and build an effective agenda to achieve them?” We both cracked up. It seemed we had been teaching this to multitudes for years. I still teach both because there are many who either don’t … Read more…

Glue or Acid?

“Words are the finest invention that human beings have ever made. They build bridges and burn ‘em down. Glue or acid, that’s what the words you say will be.” So says Tyner, a character in Little Green, a novel by Walter Mosley. Think about your recent conversations. How many words used by you and others were glue and how many were acid? Bridge-building or glue words are ones that express caring, interest, and perspectives as … Read more…

Ask Really Big Questions

A participant in a recent leadership workshop asked me an evocative question: “What is your favorite chapter in your book?”. Given that the workshop focused primarily on communication skills I referred her to Chapter 9 on Six Indispensable Communication Skills in Talk Matters!. But then I paused and realized that one of my favorite chapters is Chapter 1 in which I describe the propositions underlying the practices that are the focus of the book. “They … Read more…

Suspending Judgment

This year I have the privilege of serving on the dissertation committee for Jen Mason, an engaging and highly competent graduate student conducting seminal research into “Mindfulness, Suspension and Learning in Multi-Stakeholder Groups” for her Ph.D. from Prescott College. I am grateful for this opportunity to reconsider the importance of “suspension” in productive dialogue and collaboration. I first encountered this idea while participating in a series of International Women’s Dialogues through the Dialogue Project at … Read more…

Seeking the Great Perhaps

“I am going to seek the great perhaps.” These were Francois Rablais’ last words according to his biographer Peter Anthony Motteux. Rabelais was a French renaissance writer, physician, humanist, monk and Greek scholar.* I sincerely hope that none of us have to wait until our final words to seek the great perhaps in our conversations. To me the “great perhaps” hints at what might be possible in the future, including when we engage in “good … Read more…

I Get Scared When…

When do you get scared in conversations or meetings? You might call it “challenged,” “anxious,” or “threatened.” However, underneath our adult bravado, it remains what we called it as children: “scared.” Here’s how a few of the 50 consultants at a talk I gave last week at the Silicon Valley Organization Development Network completed this sentence: “I get scared when…” — “I think someone is angry with me and his or her voice escalates. I’m … Read more…

Conversation Is A Team Sport

I enjoy watching basketball, especially during the National Basketball Association (NBA) playoffs when the level of skill and teamwork approach their apex. The team that wins is usually the one that plays as a team instead of one in which one or two players hog the ball. Just as in conversation, individual skills matter but skill and teamwork matter more. Used in tandem, they raise everyone’s level of play. Certain individual skills increase teamwork on … Read more…