Friday, 21 November 2014

Visually Speaking

“We inhabit an almost entirely visual world…”

So began a talk I gave on Listening. (Way back when.)

And like a fool, I then proceeded to run a session that was full of stories, audio insights and clips of conversations. 

Without a single piece of visual stimulation.

The irony didn’t even occur to me. (Being an audio man.)

These days, I hope I'm a tiny bit wiser. 

And I use visuals a lot. Simple images usually.

Images to prompt the imagination, to help the learning to stick. To give people a visual hook on which they can hang their understanding.

I use circles a lot. Circles are my thing.

For me, they represent so much that I think is important.

Circles are intrinsically democratic. They’re equal and balanced. They're interpretable. They don't have a particular point to make. 

And they can represent anything. Or anyone. 

You can imagine the purple one is you. 

Or them.

You can make the bigger one into the person you want to have a better conversation with. Your partner. Your boss. Your son. Or your daughter's teacher.

And if you see me talk live, you'll enjoy seeing the circles moving around the screen. 

(They're a delight to animate. Another plus.)  

So – circles are great at being us

But what about the things we do

I've struggled for a while to illustrate the 10 core skills that improve the way we talk, listen and journey our way through the conversations that count most. The ones we need to have. 

And after a long time and a lot of discarded sketches, flip-charts and Keynote presentations – and the incredibly useful prompt of having to write a book about the damn things – I think I've done it.

I’ve come up with what I think are a series of useful, simple key visuals that help me to show what I mean, as well as saying what I mean.

(The book by the way came out earlier this year. I’m not going to flog it on here. It’s a book to help people at work have better conversations. It’s called Say It and Solve It. But this isn’t the right place to push things like that. For now, I'll just say it's a huge relief to have finished it. It took much longer than I thought it would. I'm really proud of it. And I think it's genuinely possible it might help people to have those tricky conversations that come up at work.) 

But I will confess to having discovered something about myself by writing a book.

Writing is not my natural form.

I spoke about this a bit at the launch. If you're really interested, you can watch it here:


Please don't say anything to anyone about me not being a natural writer.

It's a brilliant book. Obviously. 

It's had some great reviews. It was even Business Book of the Month at WHSmiths. (Crazy times.) 

And anyone who works anywhere should buy it. 

But damn it was a slog. 

More about that another time. 

For now, rather than tell you about the struggle I had writing stuff down rather than speaking it out loud, let me quickly share the series of icons I settled on as illustrations.

I did wonder if I should explain them all here, but if I have to do that, they're not working. 

So let's see if you get them. 

(I bet you do.)  

To begin with, one of the most crucial skills of all: 

(Absurd, to try and capture something as rich as Listening in a single image.)

Next up, a much easier one:  

(If only all the skills were this easy to visualise.)

Next, a more complex one: 

Go on. Tell me I can't draw for toffee. 

Okay - the one on the right is supposed to be an ear. 

If you can't guess the other two, just leave now and watch the brilliant Between Two Ferns.

There's a bit of  a background into foreground thing going on here:

This one didn't take long to decide on:

This one wasn't that hard either: 

This one is a bit trickier because it involves two ideas, keeping the conversation going in the right direction but stepping in and out of the content occasionally to adjust the way in which you're going about the journey:

Next, my personal favourite, because it's so simple: 

My second favourite.  Because it's so accurate

This one take the prize for being the most economic

And finally, an obscure one. If I'm honest I'm not sure it's right yet:

So there you have it.

My first serious attempt at visuals with the 10 core skills of having better conversations.

They may not be brilliant, but I hope they're helpful. 

They're out on the road

They're in the book.

And - if they're any good - some of them are already lodged in your beautiful minds.

(Any suggestions for improvement - do get in touch!)

Thursday, 6 November 2014

celia's story

I'm lucky enough to have met some pretty amazing people in my time.

And I've been lucky enough to record some of the conversations I've had with them.  

Often those conversations have been fascinating. Because they're with amazing people who are passionate about what they've achieved in their lives.                               

Among the podcasts out there already you'll hear the voices of an astronaut, a peace-negotiator, a North Pole explorer and a professor of neuroscience. 

Incredible people. With incredible jobs.

Actually I never did release the neuroscientist conversation. To be honest it wasn't up to scratch. 

But I did meet her. 

And she was amazing. It's just that our conversation wasn't.

And that's kind of my point.

Even when the people I talk to have achieved amazing things, it's not their job or their achievements that make the conversation worth sharing.

It's their capacity to give themselves to the conversation that makes it compelling. Or not.

It's when the quality of the listening in the room begins to affect the quality of the thinking. 

And it's when the job becomes not so much about telling the story but sharing it. 

Right there. Right then.

And it's when two strangers sitting across a table begin to feel like they're mutually colluding minds rather than separately and politely exchanging opinions.

It's when it feels like you're both really participating in that conversation. 

Both initiating. Both taking part. Both hunting down. Both revealing and revising.

So, I confess to being a little confused by my role in the last conversation I recorded and which, after a long, long editing process, you can now hear... 

Here on iTunes or right at the bottom of this blog.

It's called: Celia's Story. 

And in one sense it is just that, and only that. A story told.

Not told though to just anyone. Told to me. 

And - at the time of hearing it - it really felt that way.

But I'm confused because I think I might have experienced something quite rare for me. 

During my conversation with Celia, I was hearing things first-hand that perhaps somewhere in my subconscious I had tacitly assumed I would never hear. 

I felt, I suppose, something very close to shock as I listened.

Because Celia's Story is (at first) a story of cruelty. 

Of a cowardly father and (in Celia's words) a mother from hell. And as it goes on, it becomes a story of a desperately twisted adult relationship and an agonising sense of a frightened individual caught in the headlights of fear and locked in a desperate situation, partly and unbearably of her own making, in that she didn't think she deserved to say no.

It's a story that may well make you angry as you listen to it. 

You may even find it barely credible.

But if you stay with it. You'll hear too that it's also a story of human triumph.

(And how.)

Celia's story is one of hope, courage, love, kindness, forgiveness and generosity. 

It's a story of good things out-living bad ones.

And as I listened to Celia, as I absorbed her story for the first time, I realised that I was feeling nothing like I often do in a conversation. 

None of my skills seemed important. 

None of my experience felt useful.

And none of my words felt adequate.

So, I found myself, just... listening. 

And here's why I'm confused. 

Because (and perhaps when you listen to it - if you listen to it - you might hear like I do now that) this is not really a dialogue

I mean, in the sense that it's pretty much a one-way conversation. (The type I would usually say does not a dialogue make.)

I really don't do very much in it. 

I'm really not being falsely modest. I admit to asking a few good questions, to checking that I'd understood, to probing a little bit here and there. 

But essentially, I just showed up. And stayed with it. 

And of course sometimes that's all it takes. And this conversation has reminded me of that.  

It's a conversation that's left me with lots of questions. I'll write a separate post soon about what those questions are for me. (And I'd love to know what those questions are for you.)

For now, I want to offer you simply the experience of listening to someone whose courage and sense of self-preservation I am utterly in awe of and totally delighted to have met.

I've tried to do our conversation justice in the edit. Which means it's not a short one. (The extended form seems to be where my conversations are going these days.)

Perhaps you'll find though - as I did - that after a few minutes, the clock on the wall stops ticking. 

And you start instead to find time and space for a woman who not only has one of the most gorgeous accents you're ever likely to enjoy hearing, but who has somehow managed to conquer a life's journey scarred by hurt, neglect and abuse with an abundance of smiles, laughter and a one size fits all hug.

Celia - you are truly one amazing person. 

It was a privilege meeting you and it's been a privilege listening to you over and over again as I've edited our conversation in order to share it. 

Thanks for letting it be heard. I hope many people find Celia's story as inspiring as I do.

(Quick update here: Celia's Story has become the most listened to episode of any I've published in just the first two weeks of its life. Extraordinary.) 

And to Colin - who put us in touch, who hosted our conversation and made the tea, who even provided the photograph that feels like it might have come from the little hide-away that Celia describes - my heartfelt thanks and appreciation.

"It's good... to be heard."