Friday, July 6, 2012

The Art of the Conversation

I had an interesting conversation with a gentleman yesterday where we were discussing many of the challenges that confront the business world.

I posited that many of the challenges I see in the business and technology sectors are not because we lack technology, tools, processes, best-practices, methodologies and frameworks but rather because of a simpler and more mundane reason.

It’s because we don’t know how to talk to each other.

Or more importantly, it’s because we don’t know how to listen to each other.

There is a great company in the Republic of Ireland by the name of Vision  that offers a service offering called “Commitment Based Management”.

I like to refer to it as “the art of the conversation”.

While I won’t dig into the details of the offering, it is built around understanding each other’s needs and building mutually acceptable commitments to each other to ensure that each person’s contributions and needs are recognized and honored.

When I examine the many projects I have participated in or observed over the years and seek to understand what separates the successful projects from the disasters (factoring out unforeseen circumstances good and bad beyond the control of people), there is one thing that stands out.

It is the strength of the communication channels and the levels of respect, trust and understanding that are wrapped around the needs and contributions of the project participants.

I’ve watched companies with minimal resources score amazing successes.

And I’ve watched companies with unlimited resources create disasters.

It doesn’t matter how enabled you are in terms of capital, resources, knowledge and opportunities.

It matters how much you are enabled in terms of your ability to speak respectfully, to listen carefully and to build towards a win that honors everyone.

And it matters how you balance sufficient ego to create a success with appropriate levels of hubris that allow you to collaborate effectively.


When I look at the broader picture of the challenges that face the world, I have to respectfully disagree with the list that many people reference that includes but is not limited to:

1. Global warming

2. Global pollution

3. Disease and pestilence

4. Poverty

5. War

6. Financial disaster

7. Terrorism

While these are important issues to solve, none of them is the most important one to solve.

The most important one to solve is the need to speak to each other without shouting, listen without interrupting and respect that each side offers a piece in the puzzle.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I’m not a turn-the-cheek-no-matter-what-is-said-or-done kind of person.  Sometimes when someone is in your face screaming some diatribe that we are expected to just accept, we have to push back.  When people do bad things, they need to be held accountable and punished as a result.

If we don’t hold people accountable, bowing down to intellectual bullies or tolerating crimes, we encourage the ignorant or evil to continue doing what they are doing.

However, I see a lot of arguing between good, smart people who are passionately arguing towards a common goal but they are so fixated on labeling the other person that they automatically assume that the other person is wrong.

For example, the “tree hugger” looks at a Wall St. person and blames them and their “corporate greed” for all the world’s problems.  The Wall St. person looks at the “tree huggers” and writes them off as do-nothings who don’t “get it”.

Meanwhile, a solution that will make the world a better place for both sides remains unsolved because they are too busy attacking each other instead of understanding what each side brings to the table in terms of responsibly for the situation and for the solution.

The same could be said for the differences between the left and the right, the atheist and the devout, opposing political parties and any other polarized pairing.

Compromise exists that should be acceptable for everyone as long as we are not intent on proving the other side wrong first.

After all, how would we even know that the other side is wrong if we are shouting so loudly that we can’t even hear them.

Sometimes I wonder if, in the midst of the shouting, we are not actually fighting with the other side but we are in fact locked in a fight with our own ignorance and insecurity.

That’s the fight that must be won before we can solve all the other things in front of us.

In service and servanthood,



  1. Excellent insights, Harry.

    When we find ourselves in conflict, it is often because we have chosen to taken positions and defend them at all costs. There is no common ground when we stake out positions on separate hills. But when we are willing to honestly and simply express our needs and listen to each other, we can begin to find commonality, and move from conflict to collaboration.

  2. Thanks for your kind comments, Doug. I agree with your insights also!

    Create a great day!