22 January 2009

Conversations about conversations

I've talked previously about the preparation that I did for the Gurteen Knowledge Cafe on Conversations, and on the process that we went through on the evening, now it's time to address the subject matter itself.

But first, here's another one of David Gurteen's photos from the event so that you can see me in action. Until I saw this picture I did not know that I did that with my hands!

What follows is a fairly random set of comments that I made during the evening or which have occurred to me since as a result of further deliberations.

Our group was tasked with looking at the definition of conversation and while we looked effectively we failed to agree. The majority view was that a "conversation" had to be balanced, i.e. a dialogue between equals, but some felt that it could be any dialogue including some extreme cases like interrogation. I remained neutral as I am not sure that we really need a definition.

We also looked a little at conversational skills, e.g. listening and open questioning, but without any surprising ideas. What struck me was whether we could define a conversation as anything that uses conversational skills, much as a song could be defined as anything that is sung.

Our conversation certainly made me think if there were tools that I could use better to recover failing conversations or to make OK ones sparkle. Things that I need to look at include, humour, sentence length and structure, body language. Alternatively, could a failed conversation not be the fault of the conversation but a symptom of something else?

The concept of conversational disease prompted some interesting thoughts and example, such as a politician being interviewed who deliberately does not answer the questions put. This may kill the conversation from the point of view of the interviewer and, probably, the audience, but the politician sees this as a valid response and the conversation is a success from his/her viewpoint. This also returns us to the original question of whether this is a conversation in the generally accepted term or is it better described as an interview where the rules and objectives are different.

Web2.0 conversations do exist and they have different rules and behaviours. The plus side is that in many cases you can lurk in a conversation to learn the rules before joining in. This is much harder in real life, though Alison did give this an honourable try in the pub later!

Trust was mentioned a lot but I remain unconvinced. I have had lots of good conversations with people that I would not lend £10 to.

Are conversations just a means to an end or does the chitter-chatter have its own value? Can we live without conversation? Is there a basic need here that helps to explain the amazing success of Twitter?

Is it possible to judge the success, or quality, of a conversation if the end point is undefined and can change throughout the conversation? Something unexpected is needed to lift a conversation from the good to the exceptional, and you cannot plan for the unexpected but you can be prepared to respond to it.

I am paid to have, or enable, conversations. These are mostly held by phone and email.

All this is just a sample of the thinking prompted by the excellent Knowledge Cafe. Thanks Ray and David!

1 comment:

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