I met (re-met, actually) a fellow traveller on the road to mastering the art of conversation this week. I was visiting friends, John and Bona Duncan, in Norland, ON. When I arrived, Alan Engelstad was there. We had met, he remembered, over 30 years earlier in ecumenical social justice coalitions in Toronto. He and John get together regularly to talk theology and organizational change. Alan teaches organizational change in the business school at McGill with Henry Mintzberg, one of my favourite leadership/management thinkers. Alan is also a warden at the Anglican church in Fenelon Falls. I had been taking notes during the prior week for this article and my conversations with Alan and John helped to crystalize them. Here's what emerged.
I believe there are four basic kinds of conversations that people have in their daily rounds of work and life - contending, complaining, critical, and curious. If we begin an encounter with any of the first three, we push people away and take up all the space. If we begin an encounter with curiosity, we invite people in and create space for them to participate. Curiosity, quite simply, generates collaboration better than contending, complaining, or criticizing.
Contending, complaining, and criticising take us into the dark alleys of life. They focus on the negative and on the insistent. This is what's wrong and this is what I think.
Curiosity fills those alleys with a positive vibe. Your voice invites people into the space to generate value together. It's about community, not isolation. It's about doing things together, not alone. It's about the wisdom of the group, not about the assumptions of the individual.
We're not going to get rid of the dark alleys of life - usually clouded by confusion, resistance, and delay. They are simply a part of being human.
But we can take into those dark alleys the brilliance of the curious voice to create space for the light of the insights of the community. What kind of clarity of direction can they imagine? What would they like to see happen? What 'next steps' might best us forward? These, and similar questions, change the darkness into light. They open up possibilities. They initiate conversations where innovative possibilities can emerge. That's the power of curiosity.
You might want to assess your conversations over the next week or so. Notice how many times you engage in each of these kinds of conversations. Notice the impact of these kinds of conversations. Do they attract or repel people? Do they move your purpose forward or set it back? Do they bring you into community or leave you isolated?
As always, if you think Jazzthink can help provoke this kind of curiosity in your professional or personal life, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to explore the possibilities further.