Spaciousness of “Negative Capability”

John Keats, English Romantic Poet, wrote about “negative capability” in a letter to his brothers George and Thomas in 1871 when he was 22 years old. I read this letter nearly a century later when I was 22, an undergraduate majoring in English literature. I understand this oxymoronically-named ability today in ways I could not have then. As circumstances at work and in our lives become ever more complex, negative capability might be one of … Read more…

Shifting from Pieces and Parts to Wholes

When tackling a problem, it’s easier to analyze its pieces and parts and try to solve them one by one than it is to try and understand the whole situation or system. However, this approach rarely works because analyzing the parts does not help us understand how the system in which the problem is embedded works nor how it keeps the problem you want to solve in place. Systems thinking, on the other hand, seeks … Read more…

The Power of Silences

Early in my career I had the privilege of working with an all Native-American Board of a foundation in the northwest and with the Board of a Buddhist Monastery. In each meeting, they taught me the power of silences: both spontaneous and planned. People around the world cultivate silence as a source of equanimity, creativity, and wisdom. For example, silence is an essential element in indigenous ways of knowing and healing as well as in … Read more…

Artful Waiting

Recently during a workshop on mindful communication, Russell Delman  asked an evocative question: “What is ‘waiting?’” We wait in line to pay for items in a grocery store; we wait on the phone to talk to a live human being, and women in particular often wait to use public restrooms. While we wait, many of us get agitated, wanting this moment to end so the next thing can happen: return home with groceries, talk to … Read more…

“Duh’s” and “Aha’s”*

When do your best ideas come to you? Perhaps while you are walking, showering, or having a good conversation with people you trust? Or, do they come while you are studying an issue and trying to solve it based on your past experience with solving a similar problem? When faced with a difficult issue many of us try the latter and often come to an impasse or apply an ineffective solution. This happens for two … 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…

Good Conversation Is An Inside Job

A good friend and colleague told me recently how reading my book, Talk Matters!, inspired him to reflect on his inner workings and how he interacts with others in his various roles as an experienced manager and member of several boards. I, of course, appreciated his taking my words to heart. It also got me to thinking that the essence of good conversation might primarily be an inside job. Despite years of teaching communication and … Read more…

Practicing What I Preach

It’s getting harder to practice what I preach these days. It seems that several times a day I want to fight or flee from what I am hearing and seeing. In a recent Op Ed piece in our local paper, the headline “My skin color is my curse in today’s America” over the face of a mustachio-sporting white man pulled my chain. I immediately turned to the next page with unkind epithets spewing in my … Read more…

Effective Conversations Are a Critical Leadership Tool

Seems like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? You’ve been conversing your whole life. There’s no mystery involved, right? Maybe. As a leader how do you use conversations to lead, to get stuff done? (I am distinguishing between a task-oriented meeting with four or more participants and conversations among two to three.) People often start conversations with present-day events or concerns. For example, imagine that as you walk back to your office after a meeting, you exclaim … Read more…

Why Can’t We Converse with One Another?

It’s a tough time for conversations. The toxic national political environment is infecting interactions among friends, colleagues and neighbors. We are having a harder time listening to one another and an easier time vilifying those who think differently than we do. Social media feeds the flames. Curiosity and compassion have gone AWOL. Conversations are fraught with fears about the future, anger about the past, and disbelief at how we got here. The challenge for each … Read more…