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."

Monday 4 November 2013

sounds of pain

My first podcast on the subject of tinnitus is out. 

It's called Sounds of Pain

And it's a conversation (of course) between me and Isobel Anderson.You can get it here on iTunes. Or if you're not an iTunes person, you can download it directly here.

Isobel is a singer, a songwriter and a sound artist. A seriously talented young woman with the voice of an angel, a mind that's as curious as it is creative and a sense of self that's both fragile and robust. Her songs are delicate and sure-footed, powerful and vulnerable, funny and wicked. Her wit oozes gently into her lyrics while her voice captures you. She lays bare her soul but somehow manages to hold you with a firm grip all at the same time.

She's about as talented a singer song-writer as I've heard. But she's not in the least bit interested in becoming a star.

So what's the nature of my interest in her story?

Well, a couple of years ago, out of nowhere, Isobel developed tinnitus. It all happened horribly easily. She had some wax in her ear. She got an ear infection. The infection damaged her ear. And whatever the precise medical explanations and definitions, the bottom line is that the nerves that send signals to her brain quickly seized the opportunity to create a kind of chaos between her ear and her mind.

As she puts it:

It felt like I was being tortured.

I couldn't sleep.

I completely lost it.

I was just /

My whole world turned upside down.

It /

I had never ever imagined suffering like that. Ever.

I just had no idea that /

That could happen.

I always thought that that kind of suffering happens when /

You know /

When you're being tortured.

Her description of what happened and how she's learned to manage her tinnitus and maybe even befriend it is an extraordinary thing to listen to. And it's the first of my encounters with a series of people whose lives have been affected by this strange and very specific condition. My hope with these podcasts is to reveal to those of us who don't have it a little more of what it's like to have tinnitus. To share some stories of struggle and success. And to allow some creative air into a space that seems often to focus mostly on the medical side of things.   

I can think of any number of reasons why I might hope that people will enjoy listening to this particular podcast.

First, it might be you one day.

Secondly, I think anyone who has tinnitus might find some of her perspectives really helpful or at least thought provoking.

And thirdly, anyone who enjoys Isobel's music and her acoustic, part-folk, part-blues musical instincts will find the way she peels back a few of the layers of her life so far utterly compelling.

As I've listened back to our conversation bit by bit, time and time again - as you do when you're editing - I've become more and more fascinated by how useful it can be - when you're trying to describe something as specific and hard to imagine as tinnitus - to describe something else.

(When and if you listen, you'll hear what I'm talking about.)

Now - there's a special feature on this podcast.

Isobel has written a rather beautiful song about her experience of tinnitus called Little Sounds of Pain. You can hear it within the podcast but if you want to put it on your iPod - and you so should - she's released it to coincide with the podcast going out. It's a really beautiful song. And she's donating half of the proceeds to the British Tinnitus Association who are doing really fabulous work in terms of supporting, educating and (hopefully) inspiring tinnitus sufferers all over the country. There's a big week coming up early next year for the BTA. It's Tinnitus Awareness week,  from February 3rd - 9th and you can read all about it here.

So if you make your way over to Isobel's  website you can buy Little Sounds of Pain for as little as £1.00 if you like.

While you're there you'll notice that Isobel has a new album called In My Garden coming out in December. Her back catalogue is a joy to discover. (My bet is that if you listen to the podcast, you'll end up buying most of her music. I know I did.)

Right. That's it for now. 

This podcast has been a pleasure to work on from start to finish. Partly because getting to know to Isobel just a little bit has been an intriguing and uplifting experience. And partly because I've been able to weave into the edit of our conversation so much of her music. And partly because I have a strong sense that I'm only beginning my journey with exploring tinnitus.

So do listen to the podcast if you can. 

It's about 75 minutes long. Perfect for a car journey, a commute or a kitchen.. 

For now, thanks Isobel. Here's to all things auditory.  

(Oh, you might find the language a bit fruity here and there. If you're the sensitive sort.) 

Monday 30 September 2013

Music To My Ears

It’s been an insanely long time since I put anything on the blog here.

For anyone who’s missed it, I’m sorry.

As the Autumn leaves turn red, delicious new fruit will appear I promise. 

Meanwhile – have a listen to our podcasts here.

Now – there are ideas afoot.

If you are a tinnitus sufferer and have a musical relationship with your tinnitus, do please feel free to get in touch.

What I mean by a musical relationship is this. Do you understand or perceive your particular blend of tinnitus as a note, a pitch or a tone? And can you describe it as such? I’m building a picture of perspectives in preparation for a podcast on this extraordinary and unique condition. 

Already I’m delighted to say that the wonderful young folk talent Isobel Anderson has already agreed to contribute to the show and she’ll be featured along with a few other remarkable guests.

Isobel's voice is a remarkable one. I heard her sing live at a folk club in Twickenham recently and found myself literally struggling to believe what I was hearing.  Her tone has echoes of Judy Collins and Joni Mitchell. The turns and weaves of her simple but incredibly affecting original melodies honestly made me gasp out loud. Her songs are at times searingly modern and in the next moment of another time. The gentle wit of her razor sharp observations on men and her relationships with them were beautifully etched. And in just a brief conversation afterwards she began to reveal to me a fascinating perspective on not just tinnitus but pain of different sorts. So - in anticipation of my recorded conversation with her, I wholeheartedly recommend that you have a listen to Isobel's new track "Gentlemen" and all of her other music here.

And please get in touch if you feel you may have something to offer to the new show.