Friday, March 14, 2008

Welcome to Vital Conversations

Today is the first day of the Vital Conversations blog. Welcome. I look forward to engaging in vital conversations that hone our listening skills, improve our interpersonal communication and deepen the intimacy that we experience in our lives. In the spirit of “we teach what we need to learn”, I’m embarking on writing this blog to deepen my own listening and conversational wisdom as well as to share what I know with you.

So just what is a vital conversation? A vital conversation is simply one that is life enhancing and life sustaining. Vital also frequently connotes some sense of urgency and necessity. I picked this word deliberately for this double association. What is more urgent and necessary than something that is life enhancing and sustaining? Given that we are all social and interdependent beings, a vital conversation can always benefit its participants. Vital conversations leave us with deepened knowledge of ourselves as well as a heightened appreciation and understanding of the other person’s experience. Because vital conversations are relational, they hold us in connection regardless of whether our conversations end in agreement or not. Our opinions don’t take precedence over our need to connect.

Listening is an essential component of vital conversations. For something that is so important to our emotional and physical survival, it continues to surprise me that we are given so little training in how to effectively listen to others. One of the main reasons that I decided to start this blog is that over the past several years I have lost more and more of my ability to hear and consequently to listen. Technology has returned my ability to hear and I no longer take listening for granted. I will be writing more about this in future entries. I intend to use this blog to explore the practice of listening and to improve my own listening skills.

Of course, listening is only one half of any vital conversation. Response to what we have heard is necessary as well. What kinds of responses best support vital conversations? Authentic, non-projective, present-centered responses usually seem to work well. It’s not always easy to respond in this way especially when I feel anxious, angry or overly excited about my own position. I’m also very aware of the sense of disconnection that I feel when I don’t feel like I have been adequately heard or understood. I want to explore and practice responding in ways that more consistently encourage vital conversations.

All conversations create emotional fields. If you are attentive, you can pick up the energy that is being generated by the conversation. Vital conversations inherently generate positive fields. These positive emotional fields are inviting and inclusive. They encourage curiosity and exploration. I’m interested to look at my own contributions and what I contribute to conversations that either promote or obstruct a positive emotional field.

I recently watched “Death at Funeral” which has a scene toward the end of the film that illustrates the impact of a change in the emotional field quite well. A son tries several times to deliver a proper eulogy for his father only to be interrupted by a string of unusual events. The final interruption is so over the top that the son finally gives up his prepared remarks and genuinely speaks from his heart. The power of his change in attitude is palpable onscreen. Frankly, prior to this scene I was becoming bored with the film. The character’s shift to authenticity immediately grabbed my attention and touched me in a way that the rest of film failed to do.

In my next entry I’ll tell you more about why having vital conversations is so personally important to me these days and why I believe that they should be important to you. Thanks for listening. I look forward to engaging in vital conversations with you in the future.

No comments: