The Dump and Run Conversationalist

By September 13, 2010 culture, faith, language No Comments

High Calling Blogs Book Club Selection

An effective communication book I once read described good conversation as the tossing of a ball between two (or more) people: I say something (tossing the ball to you); you say something (tossing the ball to me); and on it goes. The exchange keeps both parties involved and connected. In this analogy, monologues are the equivalent of hoarding the ball, and no one else gets a turn.

My first semesters of teaching would be categorized as monologues. Inexperienced and lacking confidence, I feared conversation. I hoarded the ball because I couldn’t control the direction the students might toss it. What if they threw it into unknown territory? eek! I felt much more comfortable with the information dump approach.

In time, my confidence grew and I began tossing the ball to the students. These were enjoyable days of conversation and exchange and—I believe—greater learning for all.

For this week’s High Calling Blogs book club reading (Chip and Dan Heath’s book, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die), the difference between these two communication styles is described as the shift from “What information do I need to convey?” to “What questions do I want my audience to ask?”1

The first is rather me-centered: what I am saying and how I am saying it. The focus is on the communicator spoon-feeding answers to questions the audience isn’t even aware of.

The second is others-centered: engage the audience and inspire curiosity. The focus is on the audience becoming involved and connected to the conversation.

The Heaths prescribe the “gap theory” to inspire such curiosity. This is simply highlighting the gap between what is known and unknown—the brain will then naturally seek to fill that gap to get closure. They warn, however:

We need to open gaps before we close them. Our tendency is to tell people the facts. First, though, they must realize that they need these facts.2

So effective communication starts with being confident enough to open gaps, raise questions, and let chaos rule just long enough that the audience is longing for closure. Then you can come forth with the highly prized information needed to satiate their curiosity. Makes sense, I think.

I’m reading two of Mark Cahill’s books on communicating the Gospel, and interestingly enough, Cahill follows this same track. He encourages believers to be more others-focused, to learn what others believe and why they believe it—rather than starting with everything you think you know about God.

Similarly, the work I am involved in with Spread Truth also employs the others-centered approach. Spread Truth’s goal is to help believers share with others the beauty of the God’s grace in Christ through Gospel conversations, not Gospel presentations.

The bottom line? No matter the topic—marketing, corporate procedures, or Gospel—no one likes to be talked at.

If you find yourself regularly leaning toward monologue, figure out why you are hoarding the ball and resolve the underlying fear. Then you’ll be ready for a true conversation that has the potential to stick.

Read other Made to Stick posts from this week here.

1. Chip Heath and Dan Heath, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die (New York, NY: Random House, 2008), 88.
2. Ibid., 85.

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