Tag Archives: conversations

Deep Conversations; Connections So Sweet


Retreat facilitator Samantha Slade and author of Going Horizontal,
holding up a chart with some ways we can ask for help in creating soulful collaborations.

I sat there at breakfast on the last day of the Berrett-Koehler Author’s Retreat in Wisconsin wondering what felt different. As I walked to the clean-up station and emptied my dishes, it hit me. It had been a while since I had connected with people in deep conversations. These connections felt so sweet.

How did those connections play out? In one-on-one deep conversations and through creative group processes.

One-on-One Connections

The conversations with new and old friends filled me up. The breakfast discussion which involved a bit of problem solving and some storytelling left me with a smile. The process is what hit me. I wasn’t on my phone texting or trying to make sense of the last email in a confusing chain. I dove deeper, clarified my ideas, and learned from other people with a wide variety of perspectives and life experiences.

Many deep conversations continued through that weekend with people in the community.  Authors, members of the publishing team, and leaders from the BK Foundation weren’t rushed and let the talk meander and flow.

One conversation swung back and forth while sitting together on a porch swing, another flowed as two of us walked by the lake early one morning, and a few others happened in randomly placed chairs in a meeting room.  It didn’t matter where they were, although being in nature on a crisp fall weekend certainly provided a lovely backdrop. The common theme? All of these discussions went beyond small talk.

Large Group Connections 

The large group experiences also allowed for sweet connection. I have created many training designs and am sensitive to balancing structure with loose open spaces where people can connect organically. This retreat did just that, allowing for the retreat’s theme, “Soulful Collaborations” to emerge. A shoutout here to retreat design chairs Samantha Slade,  Ed Frauenheim and Tammy Pickering and their fabulous team made up of Alan Briskin and Marilee Adams. Emily Axelrod as the Author’s Co-op President shepherded everything along.

In our retreats (this was my 9th one) we use a method I love called Open Space. People offer topics that are on their mind and ask for input. They start it off by sharing their perspective or asking a question. There are no leaders. The person with the idea who convenes the group is the facilitator.

There are some simple operating guidelines like being able to get up and move to another session if you feel “complete”. Some open space sessions draw large groups and others small numbers. The amount of people who come to a particular session is not relevant. The people who need to be there seem to show up.

I convened one open space session on marketing ideas and left with my plate satisfyingly full. Another open space was facilitated by my author buddy, John Kador who took our group on a free writing journey. He started off with a writing prompt (ex. “There is a situation in the kitchen”) and timed our writing for a finite period of 3 minutes. We shared some of our pieces; laughing and tearing up together. Again, an opportunity for deep connection.

Sweet Connections

I came back from the retreat feeling renewed and connected to new friends and better acquainted with old ones. Having these soulful collaborations taught me more about myself and have helped me form new relationships going forward.

Most importantly, in the last several weeks I have made efforts to take  time for live conversation and even have called a few old friends who I have lost touch with in recent months.

Texts and Instagram posts don’t replace the sweetness of talking together. Soulful collaboration does connect us in ways that are hard to measure but are very sweet indeed.

What Ever Happened to Random, Spontaneous Conversations?

The art of random, spontaneous conversation has been replaced by that phone in our pockets. We wait on line at the grocery store and out it comes.  We sit on the airport runway, heads down, engaging with our screen rather than with each other.

Yes, the world is certainly opened up to us as we connect to our friends, scan news feeds, and listen to music all while reading a novel! Learning has never been so immediately accessible. Yet, I have to ask what we miss by skipping over spontaneous conversations with strangers? I believe it is the chance to learn from others and about ourselves.

Several years ago, I turned my phone off before takeoff and my seatmate turned out to be Mike “Doc” Emrick, the chief NBC hockey announcer. He was a lovely guy and on the flight from Tampa to Atlanta, Mike revealed behind the scenes insights about the players and the amount of research and prep he did before each game. I never watched a hockey game the same way again.

In the Genius of Opposites, I shared a story related to this topic. After hearing my speech at the American Library Association on how much we can learn from having spontaneous, focused conversations, an introverted librarian named Beth wrote me. She said, “Vegas was a hard town to be in as an introvert. That night, as I hailed a cab, I was overly tired and just wanted to get to the hotel and away from the crush of people. The cabbie started talking with me, something I generally avoid, but I thought about practicing “engaged listening” and decided I would try it. It turns out, we had an amazing conversation about the Nag Hammadi codices and the educational system in Nevada.” Beth went on to say that she was grateful she took the time to listen and learn from this extroverted driver. Being open to listening and having conversations with strangers can expand your world.

According to a story on NPR, one bar owner in England wanted to bring back the art of spontaneous conversation to his pub. He took charge and “installed copper wire mesh in the bar’s ceiling and tin foil on the walls, effectively blocking cell phone signals from getting into the establishment.” And the good news? Without cell phones, the owner, Mr. Tyler says that “people love it – they are actually talking with each other.”

It is up to each of us to take back the precious spaces for random conversations to bloom. And we will never know the pathways that can open if we stay exclusively attached to the machine in our pockets.