conversation is an engine

A lot can happen in a conversation

Posts Tagged ‘Rhetoric

Are You In—Or Are You a Loser?

leave a comment »

Is club membership really that critical to you?

Sometimes we observe similarities between work and church. Here’s a way work and church similarly lose momentum with every conversation: making club membership their most important feature.


At work VPs and managers and employees speak in Dilbertesque code. Acronyms are just the beginning. In the medical device world, there are shorthand words for landmark studies, shorthand words for device features and benefits, shorthand words for certain technological functions. Shorthand words for the management focus of the quarter. Unless you’ve been around the team for a time, you wouldn’t understand 60% of the conversation. That’s why advertising agencies routinely hire translators when they get projects with medical device firms—they just don’t get the gibberish these smart people are talking.

At church we put on holy language and use words that make us seem like we are in the know. We deliver these words calmly as if they were on our minds all the time. The language of doubt is mostly unwelcome in this setting—this is where the faithful come for their weekly booster shot. And so language becomes subterfuge.

The problem with insider language at work or church is that it sets up participants for failure again and again. In both settings, many of the folks in the conversation don’t understand the very words they are saying—and don’t even realize they don’t understand. Or maybe they realize it but the insider current is so strong they are afraid to admit their lack.

Plain speech is a subversive force. Not only does plain speech out those not in the know, it actually forces those who think they know to explain or realize they know less than they thought. Plain speech is a force for progress because it breaks down hidden barriers and destroys a primary rhetorical tool for those who want to sit on their knowledge and keep it for themselves and to protect their kingdom.

This is why…again…no question is a dumb question. The simplest questions often carry great power.

As organizations (like work and church) realize they need to evangelize and draw outsiders in as a matter of survival, insider language must die.

Insider language is dead!

Long live language!


Image Credit: Kirk Livingston

Does a Steady Diet of FOX News Contribute to Early Onset Dementia?

with 4 comments

The faux-news channel seems to leave vulnerable adults in its wake

I have no double-blind, randomized studies to cite for this or any clinical research at all. Just observation that this particular entertainment outlet—with its flights of rhetorical fancy and its continual twisting of cherry-picked facts with dark conjecture, its on-air personalities who are caricatures of thoughtful people,  who continually feed a state of hysteria—seems to leave vulnerable adults in its wake. While the name implies news, it’s really an entertainment channel for a particular narrow conservative world view that takes an all or nothing reductionist approach to every story. Everything is black and white. There is no gray area where thoughtful people might discuss merits. It is the perfect mental food to feed and frame the coming apocalypse (whether zombie or rapture).

We’ve known for years that we need to monitor how much TV our kids watch—for a number of reasons. They need to go outside and get fresh air and play. They need to read. Snacks and TV and obesity seem to fit so neatly together. We’ve also speculated (I cannot point to definitive research), that violent video games contribute to violent behavior. Is it so far-fetched to think that isolated adults who entertain themselves with a faux-news entertainment (which seems dedicated to breaking down reasoning ability, maintaining their demographic in near-panic and cultivating their buying choices)—may push some over the edge?

My argument is less about a conservative viewpoint (some elements I agree with) and more about how the faux-news entertainment channel debilitates its audience with hysteria and rumor-mongering, so much so that they cannot hear and do not pursue alternate opinions which could help balance their media diet. It leaves vulnerable adults by chipping away at the power to reason effectively. We’ve known for years that watching TV makes us stupider—actually putting us into a wakeful sleep pattern of brainwaves. Something like hypnosis. Is it possible that FOX News is stupid on steroids, pushing viewers toward a persistent vegetative state even faster?

The solution is not laws that ban free speech. The solution is family interventions that help curb the infusion of faux-news. Friends don’t let friends camp in front of Fox (faux) News.


Image Credit: silentcuriosity via 2headedsnake

Written by kirkistan

November 11, 2012 at 4:32 pm

Posted in curiosities

Tagged with , ,

Philosophers don’t pack heat. Right?

with 4 comments

On Preparing for Ignite Minneapolis

outcome not yet determined

The unrelenting movement—every 15 seconds a slide changes—makes speaking at Ignite Minneapolis more a verbal dance than a straight-out talk. I’ve compressed four voluminous thinkers (Martin Buber, Emmanuel Levinas, JL Austin and Wayne Booth) into pairs of 10 second sound bites. If the audience includes philosophers packing heat, I may not make it out alive. Practice, practice, practice. And more practice. And then practice lots, lots more. It’s the only thing that begins to still the nerves.

I remind myself of the dream: to see if anyone will bite on my notion that ordinary conversations can be turned into insight-producing engines. All it takes is four steps to tune our thinking—but I’ll wait until after I present to spill the beans on “How to HACK a Conversation for Insight.” It’s the message I’m excited about presenting. Very, very swiftly.


Image Credit: Zohar Lazar via 2headedsnake

How Can I Accelerate Adoption of New Ideas? PBS Arts Off Book

leave a comment »

Aesthetics or style isn’t what drives me. What drives me is the core idea, and then I apply a design sense to that core idea. (2:08)


Via: The Casual Optimist

Written by kirkistan

December 15, 2011 at 10:18 am

Posted in curiosities

Tagged with ,

The Rhetoric of Rhetoric: The Quest for Effective Communication by Wayne C. Booth

leave a comment »


Wayne C. Booth’s The Rhetoric of Rhetoric: The Quest for Effective Communication (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2004) was published in a series called “Blackwell Manifestos.” Booth’s passion is equal to the series’ task, whether he is preaching the gospel of “listening-rhetoric” (really getting at underlying truths in conversation versus “bargain-rhetoric” where your goal is to mediate a truce or “win-rhetoric” where your goal is to engage in monologue and so browbeat the conversation partner into submission) or ranting about the rhetorical missteps of the George W. Bush government, there is no lack of passion.

But perhaps the clearest message and the one I take with me is the notion that every piece of communication carries (furthers?) some rhetorical purpose. Every communication has a purpose. And to sit passively receiving without considering what the author/rhetor hopes to accomplish is to allow myself to be taken advantage of. Whether I’m watching a commercial on TV (even a good one), listening to a sonata, hearing a preacher or even reading the prophet Amos or some other ancient text, I’m at my best when I consider—and possibly reject or even accept—the message coded into the communication.

A text wants a response.


Written by kirkistan

March 10, 2010 at 7:34 am

Great Moments in Rhetoric: Climate Change and the IPCC Mission

leave a comment »

Good communicators are transparent about their purpose.

The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) mission to take “sophisticated and sometimes inconclusive science, and boil it down to usable advice for lawmakers.” The article speculates (via scientists working with the IPCC) that institutional bias toward oversimplification is what lies behind the erroneous projection that Himalayan glaciers could melt by 2035.

If there is anyone out there who still believes in truly objective science—or truly objective anything—I’d like to meet them. It should surprise no one that we constantly arrange facts to meet our pet goals. And we infuse those facts with the urgency that fits our purpose rather than an urgency arising from the facts themselves. This is a human trait and we should expect it in every communication. Facts are facts, yes. But facts are also small pieces of a rhetorical puzzle that can (and will) be built together in a number of different ways. Is there ever a time when we experience facts in isolation—without some rhetorical flourish—that is, without some political aim that wishes to move us toward a favored action?


But persuasion is not wrong. It is a necessary piece of human life on this planet. All our actions, all our thinking, all our communication, all our learning, all of most everything is organized by political pulls. That’s not overstatement: even the best among us are always motivated by partisan or self-serving objectives. Rather than resist this fact of human life, it makes more sense to look closely at the objectives that drive us. Of course, there are two sides to every story, including this large story on climate change. Sure the WSJ is written from a conservative perspective and this article was meant to shine light on hypocritical methods of their opponents, which always makes for good reading and sells newspapers.

It’s just important that we keep in mind what stake our communication partners have in moving us one way or another. And perhaps as communicators, we do best when we state our goals early. In fact, I think our audiences are put in a positive state of listening when they hear our disclosures up front.


%d bloggers like this: