Zeldin on Conversation

A couple of weeks ago I read Theodore Zeldin’s book on Conversation with my curiosity piqued by the David Gurteen Knowledge Cafe.  Zeldin describes conversation as a meeting of minds, of a dialogue between two people.  Conversations require opening ourselves to strangers, broadening our curiosity and he highlights the importance of courage.  At a recent conference that I helped organise, one of the keynotes requested the senior managers in attendance to go away and have just one courageous conversation in the next 24 hours. 

Zeldin particularly values conversations which are meetings on the borderline of what I understand and what I don’t, with people who are different from myself.  On the other hand, he considers conversation with yourself as full of risk – because you have to decide how much to enhance your ideas with imagination.  Lucky I have a good imagination otherwise it would be a very boring conversation!

One quote leaped out at me though from page 88: “Conversation needs pauses, thoughts need time to make love”.  I guess that argues against wham bam thank you ma’am type conversations and argues for the sensual and protracted conversations.  It is the pauses that often allows one to collect their thoughts, encourages the introverted to come forward and deepens the thread.  So is conversation then a meeting of minds like sex is a meeting of bodies?  Does this accord in some way with Patrick’s inclination towards Touch KM – with perhaps just a modicum less intimacy?  Or could it be that I have been simply too long away from home and my wife and that the conversation with myself is getting carried away by my imagination? 

Now in speaking to a very learned gentleman (RH) on this, Zeldin’s book is just commonsense.  Of course I agree!  But it often serves to be reminded of that.  It’s just like managing people is just commonsense but a shame that too many managers leave their commonsense at home.


5 Responses to Zeldin on Conversation

  1. Nerida Hart says:

    Interesting post Luke – yet another book I need to read 😎 (so many books so little time)

    I like the idea of long slow conversations – I wonder if this could be called tantric conversation ??

    I listed to a great podcast on PopTech about the time we don’t take these days http://www.poptech.org/popcasts/popcasts.aspx?lang=&viewcastid=164

    Another great blog



  2. David Montgomery says:

    “Now in speaking to a very learned gentleman (RH) on this, Zeldin’s book is just commonsense. Of course I agree! But it often serves to be reminded of that. It’s just like managing people is just commonsense but a shame that too many managers leave their commonsense at home.”

    Whoops…..commonsense, sorry guv I left it on the mantelpiece at home.

    Commonsense is rapidly becoming an oxymoron since, the term implies it is ubiquitous when clearly it is not. I have not read the book by Zeldin so do not know if it adds anything beyond Bernard Shaw’s insightful observation that “the problem with communication is the illusion that it has been achieved.”

    Perhaps most conversations today are more nonsense than commonsense or more SMS than oral? Or perhaps we’re too busy sense making rather than making sense of………mmmmm……where are the sensei when you need them?

  3. Thanks for that David and good to hear from you – been a while.
    I like Bernard Shaw’s observation – most of us think we have communicated when we have told someone something but it only occurs when someone effectively listens to the communication. It’s the recipient, not the author. Whether that is nonsense or commonsense is up to you, of course!

  4. Henry Pym says:

    What do you mean ?

  5. Dear Henry
    The receiving of communication works best when people have a clear idea of who they are, what they are looking for, and an open mind towards the message. As you are writing under a pseudonym, I am not sure whether you know who you are (although I know who you really are), you may have an idea of what you are looking for, and as far as an open mind, it doesn’t count if your mind is an empty shell and messages pass straight through without touching the sides.

    Or Henry, you could just be toying with me and having fun!!

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