conversation is an engine

A lot can happen in a conversation

Let’s Talk: Will You Fly This Plane into a Mountain?

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Listening-Rhetoric and Public Conversations Gone Private

To the casual news-reader, it’s looking more like the German copilot purposely flew into the side of a mountain. Given that, it’s not hard to imagine last week’s conversations between airline human resource vice-presidents and corporate lawyers:

  • How do we screen for lethal depression?
  • Let’s get serious about that two-people-in-the-cockpit rule.
  • Is there an intention-detector we can employ before anyone—pilots included—steps into an airplane?


Intentions frame how we talk and how we listen. Wayne Booth posited that sometimes we come into a conversation with the intent to win—to bash our conversation partner into submission with whatever way we can. Sometimes we come with the intent to bargain, and so we are ready with a list of conciliations. Sometimes we come to listen and learn. Booth called that “listening-rhetoric” and recommended it as an antidote for stupidity, partisanship and as a way to “pursue truth behind our differences.”

People will speculate for a long time on the pilot’s intentions and actions—which we will never fully know. But as lawyers and HR talk I hope they will also examine the role of relationship-building conversation as an antidote to isolated suffering. Suffering that may become lethal.


Dumb Sketch: Kirk Livingston

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