Dialog must be Relational

Conversation is about Relationship, Not Information.

pexels-photo-89873There are talkers and there are listeners that will hopefully never meet. They’re missing the chief cornerstone of relationship when only focused on half of the equation. Talking and listening actively is relationship.

Talkers can never learn or be satisfied until they listen equally as well. The listeners will bust at the seams until they share the valuable information stored within their heart. Communication is the only relational tool that unites the human race and forms culture.

During one film shoot, I directed a group of actors who were very different from their characters. The joy on set was high, as the talent played with roles that stretched their imagination beyond the stereotypical. After great contemplation they delivered heartfelt performances that opened our eyes to new perspectives.

One woman, who was an intellectual, played a ditzy blonde type that had a heart for kids. Her research brought the perception that “ditzy” was based on circumstances of how the person addressed the unknown. Curtailing the stereotype, she resisted playing the person that when jolted by a comment would say the first words that came to her.

She entered the scene as a brunette who led with undefined empathy, which became clear by the end of the scene. The actor’s choice gave the feeling of “ditzy,” but without showing a lack of intelligence. This resulted in the character coming across as empathetic and what I called squishy-warmhearted.

This empathetic quality came out because of the conversation between her and another leader. The dialog revealed the heart of both people and their relationship. It was more than just an exchange of information. The expressions of each character’s souls were on the line, demonstrating their courage in conversing.

Ursula K. Le Guin in her essay titled “Telling is Listening” published in The Wave in the Mind: Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader, and the Imagination, shared the following complexities of human communication:

“In most cases of people actually talking to one another, human communication cannot be reduced to information. The message not only involves, it is, a relationship between speaker and hearer. The medium in which the message is embedded is immensely complex, infinitely more than a code: it is a language, a function of a society, a culture, in which the language, the speaker, and the hearer are all embedded.”

The film was powerful because each character did more than communicate information. Their expressions and backstory came through in how they presented each comment. Even their reaction shots revealed how they were impacted through the courageous interchange.

The audience was mesmerized and fascinated by the dialog, not because it was written well, but because of how it was crafted using the embedded elements of each character within the exchange. The dialog was far more than words or information. It was real in everyway.

I made an interesting note the night after the shoot that read, “Dialog is about relationship, not information.” Whether a discussion occurs in real life or on screen, it is only of value if it develops the relationship. Talkers who talk without listening and listeners who listen without sharing are not interesting because they are only focused on themselves.

© 2017 by CJ Powers
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Crayon Messaging Americans Grasp

64_Crayon_Box.pngSome say that Trump’s campaign messages captivated Americans, while Clinton’s messages seemed to miss the mark with critical people groups. Others say it was Trump’s lack of intelligence that helped him speak to the people and Clinton’s high intellect that undercut her attempts at the White House. These comments caused me to consider how the messaging of each candidate helped or hurt their campaign.

To win an election, or to communicate any message, the speaker must exclude some vocabulary so their message is clear and easy for the average American to understand. The media typically presents the nightly news at the 8th grade level to make sure they reach as many people in their viewing audience as possible.

This makes sense to me when I compare the communication of information to crayons. Almost everyone in our country understands the basics of communication. It’s like the average person is able to communicate in the 8 basic crayon colors. You know the ones, those boxes with the really thick crayons that are hard for preschoolers to break.

As we grow older we mature to the level of communicating with a box of 16 crayons. The crayons are smaller, but we’ve doubled the amount of color choices like our increase in vocabulary. Soon we improve to the 24-pack and those more focused learn additional communication skills that serve up one of those cool 64-packs of crayons. And, there are a few that move on to the 152-pack, but its rare.

Abraham Lincoln spoke at an 11th grade level, the highest level spoken during a run for the presidency. Trump spoke at the 4th grade level, which was the lowest level in history for a candidate. George W. Bush, during his run spoke at a 5th grade level. Clinton varied her talks, fluctuating between the 7th and 9th grade levels – possibly blocking many Americans from understanding her message.

You see, Trump spoke using the 8 basic colors we all understand in life. When he said blue, we understood him because the 8-pack comes with blue. But with Clinton using a vocabulary that included the color Cornflower, many 8, 16 and 24-pack people didn’t know she was saying blue because their vocabulary didn’t included the variation she mentioned. They may have thought she changed the subject to farming or baking—get it, Cornflower.

The readability model used to measure the level of a speaker’s comments is called READ. This information is always tracked by organizations including the Boston Globe and Carnegie Mellon University. And, the published results are readily available in many libraries. The document I read came from the Cornell University Library.

My take away from my mini-study is that I can talk to 64-pack people and be understood by them using any of the 64 colors. But, if a 16-pack person joins us at the table, I have to shift my conversation to 16 colors if I want everyone to understand my comments. I saw this play out in a peculiar way just this week.

A wife (64-pack) asked her husband (8-pack) a Cornflower question. His pride didn’t allow him to ask what she was talking about, so he instead stormed off with his voice trailing, “I don’t have time for any of this.” She turned to me and asked if she was being unreasonable with her husband. I nodded, “No,” and suggested she reword her request based on his 8 colors.

It’s frustrating for a wife or husband who has a spouse with less colors of communication ability because they are constantly talking with self-restrictions to be understood. They typically alleviate this frustration by finding a friend that can handle all of their 64 colors of expression, which greatly reduces their stress.

Copyright © 2016 by CJ Powers

Politically Correct Words Alter Friendships

© apops - Fotolia.comCommunication is critically important in our lives. Every year men attempt to control this powerful tool in order to persuade others to their perspective. For decades journalists told both sides of a story to stop any one person from gaining control over the masses. But with the new millennium came a barrage of politically correct (PC) rules in the name of what is “right” that was accepted blindly by the country.

Freedom of speech, the kind that existed when I was a kid, no longer exists.

If you make a statement today that contrasts the current PC culture, you are bound to receive a barrage of comments “punishing” you for stating something outside of what is “right.” You no longer can voice an opinion that isn’t in agreement with those who are currently in power.

This is most unfortunate, since those who saw life differently than those who were in power birthed our country’s liberation. The cool trends in media also came from those who saw life from a different perspective. In fact, someone who disagreed with our status quo introduced all of our country’s great accomplishments over the past millennium.

This new PC language has since infiltrated our friendships. For decades, a friend was someone you opened your heart to without the fear of rejection. They knew your deepest and darkest secrets, but cast no judgment. You were accepted for who you were and the positive elements of your life were celebrated.

In his book, Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words, David Whyte explains friendships in this way, “In the course of the years a close friendship will always reveal the shadow in the other as much as ourselves, to remain friends we must know the other and their difficulties and even their sins and encourage the best in them, not through critique but through addressing the better part of them, the leading creative edge of their incarnation, thus subtly discouraging what makes them smaller, less generous, less of themselves.”

The Bible is another resource that recommends the sharing of heartfelt words over PC language. The author suggests that close friends confess their sins to one another and encourage the withholding of judgment since we have all fallen short. Even more verses are aimed at lifting up our friend’s best attributes for God’s glory.

When I was a young teen, my dad loved to promote the best in us kids. He saw my charismatic stage presence and ability to perform illusions as a skill worthy of promoting. During our massive three week driving vacation, to see everything west of the Mississippi, my dad had us visit old friends who had moved away. Every visit was around a great meal, where dad nonchalantly introduced my skills of illusion for the purpose of entertaining his friends.

During that trip I made saltshakers stand on edge, bread rolls float in the air, wedding rings disappear and reappear, and spoons magically bend without anyone touching it. The entertainment value was high for all and I had a lot of fun. Not once did dad point out my faults or shortcomings.

We had a lot of fun during the days when my family was far from being politically correct. I remember a camping trip when we hit a skunk with the car. We had just comeback from a laundry mat with clean clothes in the trunk. Sharing our misery and the skunk’s scent seemed like a fun and humorous idea, so we drove around all of our friend’s campers before retiring for the night. We woke up the next morning and found a sign posted above our camper that read: “Stinky Hollow.”

Our friends and family were always able to laugh off our failures and promote our best attributes before the days of PC language. Today, few friends and family members are willing to risk comments or activities that might be perceived as politically incorrect, creating an atmosphere of hesitation, less sharing, and little revealing of who we really are.

Facebook tends to encourage the same shallowness. Rarely will someone present anything negative about themselves for fear that their next employer might read about it and decide not to hire them. And the positive posts are so pristine that no one can really live on the pedestals of half-truths that they seem to balance on.

Our freedom to speak our mind and reveal our true self was greatly altered by the introduction of PC language. Few people have the guts to buck the system in order to maintain their own personal freedom, especially once its no longer vogue to believe things that are not accepted by those in power.

These choices force us into thinly veiled friendships that are temporary and judgmental. We couch our words instead of boldly stating what we really believe. And, our careful words blind others from seeing our soul, our true self. The real person that we are is sidelined. People only see a manipulated PC projected version of us.

It’s no wonder that there is a growing desire deep inside each of us that longs to be known. We desire to be accepted in spite of our shortcomings. We want to be loved for who we really are, not who we appear to be on the surface. We are significant, but can only shine in a friendship when we let go of what those in power think is “right” and we live based on who we are and what we know is right.

Let’s be real friends.

Copyright © 2015 by CJ Powers

Creating a Visual for Communicating Non-Fixable Feelings

Porch_SwingDiscerning the difference between when a man in a conversation with a partner must only listen, versus offer obvious fixes is difficult, but no longer impossible. I found myself stuck in that no-win scenario all too often and frequently made the wrong choice. Not only did my great advice fall on deaf ears, but I also got to figuratively clean the doghouse more often than my study.

The only saving grace came from a wise old man who found my circumstances funny. Yes, he had a hearty laugh. The man suggested that my solution was found in my make up. He pointed out that my internal wiring wasn’t wrong; it just hadn’t been adjusted to the female language.

Put more simply, my wife (at the time) and I needed listening goals and something visual to trigger my new behavior. He made it clear that I was wired to be visual and therefore required a symbol to engage my new listening goals.

After trial and error, we found a solution that worked so remarkably well that I started to enjoy those difficult conversations because they actually were resolved in an emotionally healthy manner. And, we had the added bonus of finding new treasures of value deep within each other’s souls – Generating new respect for one another.

Thanks to the help from the wise man, I’m now able to say that every woman can share her feelings with her man, without him trying to fix them, by applying a visual reminder with three listening goals.

Here were our goals:

  1. Share Important Feelings in a Visual Place.

We chose the front porch swing as our visual listening place. Every time I sat on the swing, I was visually reminded that if my wife shared a feeling, it was the type that required focused listening and no fixes. After a few months, my new listening behavior had matured.

My wife also had a role to play. She was not to ever share a feeling that required my opinion or a suggested fix when sitting on the swing. Those items were to be discussed elsewhere.

  1. Listen Past the Conflict until You See the Hidden Treasure.

Most of the conversations that took place on the swing were forms of frustration that my wife had to get off of her chest. As a new focused listener, I soon noticed that every point of frustration was like a red flag getting my attention to something important that was deep within her soul.

By listening closely, I was able to ask open-ended questions that allowed her to share more depth, which eventually led to the surfacing of the key issues buried within her heart. In that moment, I would see the real person, her true beliefs and everything that made her tick. It was like finding a huge treasure of great value.

The experience always humbled me as she opened up and revealed her heart. In retrospect, I realized how many lost opportunities to learn something precious had sipped away because I tried to fix things early in the conversation.

  1. Transfer the Visual to Your Partner’s Tells.

After a few months of practice I noticed that my wife had certain “tells” notifying me that she was sharing a feeling that wasn’t to be fixed, but intently listened to. I was soon able to attach my listening goals to her visual tells, so we were no longer limited to sharing deep feelings on the porch swing. If I ever started to waver, she was able to mention the swing and I would immediately heed the hint and listen carefully.

This communication technique doesn’t guarantee excellent conversations every time, as both people can short circuit the process out of anger, rather than seek understanding. In other words, these goals are a tool, not a magic genie.

The good news for men is that the listening goals were based on a visual symbol that turned my times of listening into valuable explorations of the soul. As for the woman’s benefits, it goes much deeper than being known, which in of itself is a wonderful experience.

What do you do to discern the differences between fixable and non-fixable conversations? I’d love to get your insights in the comment space below.

Copyright © 2015 by CJ Powers

The Right to Object

PCPolitical Correctness has made it “wrong” for me to have an opposing opinion, or at least voice it. Worse yet, it has empowered many to become PC police that attack anyone who voices contrary views, ruining companies, careers and friendships. This atmosphere has created an unsafe environment for vocalizing important matters, which has led to the longest period of silence by America’s majority.

The words, “…by the people and for the people…” once referenced what was good for the majority of Americans. The Senate was made up of professionals and the House was made up of commoners – Bringing all viewpoints to congress concerning important issues. Lobbyist groups now tell Congress how to vote on the bills they’ve provided, many of which were paid for by a few interested in controlling people at large.

But who’s to blame for this new form of controlling the masses?

THE JOURNALISTS

Sharyl Attkisson, an Emmy award winning investigative journalist, said the media is at fault. As a keynote speaker at the Right Online 2015, Attkisson shared how the once watch dog media has allowed the current administration to stop the proliferation of hard facts and replaced it with self-made pieces that alter the “truth.”

In her New York Times bestseller, “Stonewalled,” Attkisson describes that when the media sided with the politically correct, it was forced to drop facts from many reports. This led to the control of the media by the current administration that now limits the coverage of certain breaking stories to friendly biased reporters.

During her keynote, Attkisson shared how this led to the demise of trustworthy journalism and the reason she left the business. Today, she travels as a speaker sharing how “journalism is suffering from a crisis of it’s own making.”

THE MEDIA

After a recent interview on behalf of Amnesty International, the PC police attacked moderate Sir Patrick Stewart for his stance concerning Irish bakers who refused to put the words, “Support Gay Marriage,” on a cake. His comment during the interview was not questionable, as it brought balance to the subject.

“In my view, this particular matter was not about discrimination,” said Stewart, “but rather personal freedoms and what constitutes them, including the freedom to object. Both equality and freedom of speech are fundamental rights— and this case underscores how we need to ensure one isn’t compromised in the pursuit of the other.”

Some tried to discredit Stewart as being homophobic, but he has no issues with gay people. In fact, before the accusation, he had asked his openly gay best friend and cast mate, Sir Ian McKellen (X-Men, Lord of the Rings), to officiate his wedding to Sunny Ozell.

THE ENTERTAINERS AND EDUCATORS

Clint Eastwood was attacked publically for being politically incorrect behind the scenes. During the taping of the Spike TV’s Guys Choice Awards, Eastwood introduced “San Andreas” star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson with a side comment about athletes who had transitioned into acting, including “Jim Brown and Caitlyn Somebody…” This political attack was purposeful, as his side joke never made it past the editing room floor, yet was used publically by the PC police to promote its agenda.

Jerry Seinfeld and other comedians have become increasingly nervous about their future with the PC police jumping on anything that might leverage their agenda. Comedy has always risen from our pain or circumstances, but in recent years universities push so much political correctness that it stops comedians like Chris Rock and The Cable Guy from performing at those venues.

THE REAL ANSWER

It’s the people who decide if we are to show respect to those with opposing opinions or not. Our government officials have to conform to the needs of the majority when they are not silent. Our journalists must provide the facts and not bias when the majority demand it. And, for freedom of speech and humor to exist, we must allow our comedians to experiment without being judged.

The one really at fault are those who jump on the bandwagon of joining the PC police instead of standing for freedom of speech. As a communicator, I hope more people start to listen to all the arguments and not hinder any from being made. After all, had political correctness been instituted back in the 50s and 60s, we would never have learned that smoking was bad for our health.

Copyright © 2015 by CJ Powers