conversation is an engine

A lot can happen in a conversation

Dubious Conversation Skills: Skepticism and Fault-Finding

with 4 comments

Pivot Your Conversation on Some Fresh Hope

One dubious skill I learned early in corporate life was that skeptics and fault-finders earn respect at a conference table. If you are not presenting the idea (and thus less invested in making it work), you’ll win experience-points with others by blowing holes in whatever the group is discussing. Finding fault won’t cost you much and could win you a more exalted place in the world of that organization. Plus: you need know next-to-nothing about the idea or context to find some loose thread to pull and hope for collapse.

Please walk this way

Please walk this way

Yesterday I sat around a conference table with a group of skilled, opinionated, driven people who had a brand new idea. All around the table were invested because they had been working different parts of the idea for some time. The hero directing the conversation skillfully wove a bit of verbal fabric above us by hinting at how these disparate work groups were—quite possibly—creating some brand new category. I’ll not be more specific because of non-disclosure agreements, but what was remarkable to me was the intent of the verbal dreaming and the way it resonated with a group that could have been contentious.

Yesterday’s meeting reminded me that fresh hope is a disarming thing to bring to a group of seasoned people.


By the way, my book ListenTalk: Is Conversation an Act of God? is moving through the publisher’s proofreading department toward an actual physical presence. Chapter 2, “Intent Changes How We Act Together” highlights the work of the late University of Chicago rhetorician, Wayne Booth, who showed three different ways our intentions derail conversations. He ended up developing a way of talking that could unite conversation partners—much like the hero in my story above. You can put your name on a list [here] to be notified when the book is available.

Randomized, double-blind studies indicate that people who put their name on that list live happier, more thoughtful lives. I just made that up. But you can–and probably should–put your name on that list.


Image credit: Kirk Livingston

4 Responses

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  1. […] fresh hope to a cynical colleague is not about squatting at the other end of the emotional spectrum, babbling […]

  2. I’m wondering the switch from the first paragraph to the second. It seems like they are making two different points: The first, that it is beneficial to tug on the thread on another’s presentation; the second, that it is beneficial to speak [when presenting?] such that it stymies disagreement. Is this correct?

    • Hey, This Forgetful Philosopher–thanks for the close reading! I’m on deadline at the moment but I’ll come back to this. Great question!


      April 2, 2015 at 5:40 pm

    • OK. Yes–it does look like two points. In the first paragraph I meant that it is easy to blow holes in someone else’s great idea when you are not invested in it yourself. And people seem to respect that sort of skepticism. If it were you own idea, you would defend rather than blow holes. So this skepticism is less than beneficial.

      In the second paragraph, I just noticed that when everyone is invested, potential disagreement turned to agreement, because everyone wanted it to happen. So–not trying to stymie disagreement. More rejoicing in agreement. I don’t know if that is any clearer, but I appreciate the question.


      April 2, 2015 at 9:18 pm

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