TED Conversations

Kathy Castle

Ph.D. Student and Course Director- Business and Professional Com,

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What would it take for you to be willing to be changed by your interaction with another?

I study communication and how it shapes our reality. Communication is very often thought of as the process by which we articulate our thoughts and ideas--and the more clearly we do that, the more effective our communication is. This, however, is not communication as I study it...it is imposition. Communication is the negotiation of a shared meaning. Dialogue is a form of communication to which we should all aspire, requiring communicators to seek to create meaning with each interaction. This process requires individuals to evaluate their own social positioning and the power that it does or does not afford them and to evaluate the social positioning of the other communicator and the power that it does or does not afford them in the interaction. Next, the communicators seek to create meaning through interaction by allowing themselves to be impacted and changed by the other person's perspective rather than impose their preconceived ideas in the interaction. In short, dialogue challenges us to question power structures and privilege the emergence of meaning that reflects all perspectives rather than perpetuating existing systems of power.

This type of communication has the potential to create space for marginalized voices in discussions---voices that must be heard in order to allow us to have a discussion that encompasses the needs, priorities and concerns of all of our global citizens. Importantly, dialogue would allow us to hear this from everyone's unique perspectives rather than casting all thoughts and ideas into a more dominant frame that ultimately subordinates specific positions. Dialogue is the vehicle through which all voices have the potential to be heard--but it is a responsibility that we share and that we don't often acknowledge. Those with more power in the dominant framework have a responsibility to create space for all voices rather than privileging voices like theirs.

Given the potential for dialogue, what would it take for us to engage it?

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    Feb 21 2012: I believe that vulnerability is the gateway to communication and intimacy. In my PostSecret project I have learned that the best way to have a conversation about secrets is to share one of your deepest ones first.
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    Feb 20 2012: Interesting. The only thing I have seen change anybody is experience. So communicate away, if there is no experience there is no change.

    Talk is cheap.
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    Feb 21 2012: Well... I would be willing to be changed through an interaction with the other person, if he/she is willng to listen to me to understand my point of view, and can show me the deeper insight and the betterment which I would be achieving if I change!
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    Feb 21 2012: I think a primary destroyer of dialogue is unrestrained, dominant emotions. Consider the on-going debate between theists and atheists. Conversations often break down as many people on either side of the argument have rooted their opinions in their emotions. Atheists often (though not exclusively) view religions as injustices against knowledge, and spiritual people view atheists as injustices against their faith (yet whether either perspective is a good one is debatable!)

    When we attribute to a particular knowledge a belief in its being true and good/evil, we create something which must either be defended or assaulted.

    I try to establish dialogue every time I can. I had a long, respectful conversation with an interesting Christian, and I'm an atheist. We shared our views without resulting to insulting eachother and admitted to the strength of our exchanged points.

    But I think there are many little things too. I think our emotions and the way we express them are rooted in our culture and our systems. Our politicians don't engage in healthy dialogue with each other. Members of competing political parties don't engage in dialogue. We don't engage in dialogue with our elementary/secondary school teachers. Many bosses don't care about establishing dialogue with their employees. So many of our relationships are -not- about dialogue. Why would we then develop any instincts favorable to dialogue?
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    Feb 21 2012: "Dialogue is a form of communication to which we should all aspire"
    Amen, Kathy! ;)
    "Given the potential for dialogue, what would it take for us to engage it?"
    Nothing short of a miracle.
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    Feb 21 2012: Kathy, by reading the posts so far.....noone seems to have been changed by the interactions.

    So what has occured in YOUR opinion......have you had....

    1....interaction

    2...dialogue

    3...communication

    4...discussion

    5...conversation

    which of the five??? I am curious to know your insight since you are studying communications. And by the way...are you studying communications as in.......becoming some type of reporter....or another type of communication?

    Mary (I am enjoying reading the different perspectives)
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      Feb 21 2012: Mary-- Interesting question. It is not dialogue, to be sure. We are in the process of stating a viewpoint...an interaction is how I would describe it at this point...and eventually, over time, the hope would be that we would make a move toward integrating each other's viewpoints into our understanding...but as I said, dialogue is something to which people should aspire--it's not easy to achieve. There is a lot that stands in our way---and I'm curious as to what others think it is that gets in the way...

      I am studying organizational communication---the way in which communication between and among people comprises organizations and impacts our ability to collectively organize toward a shared purpose. I am particularly interested in the ways in which the public talks about things and the way in which organizations talk about things and how this enables us to see the world from specific vantage points...as well as how it constrains our ability to see the world. In other words, I study the way in which public and organizational discourses intersect to inhibit dialogue. I am also interested in how moments of dialogic exchange can impact those structures that serve to limit our perspectives.
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        Feb 21 2012: Super interesting......this is a field of study, that if I had the time and energy, I would love to pursue.

        The break down of communication is so prevalent today.

        People talk at each other instead of to each other. Each trying to make his/her point understood without regards to the other's viewpoint.

        I will continue to follow your conversation for the few hours left.....

        Thank you so much for answering my curious questions.

        Be Well.
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        Feb 21 2012: "I study the way in which public and organizational discourses intersect to inhibit dialogue." I didn't see this before but see previous post about listening. Teach people to listen and dialogue flows.

        I am intrigued by the idea of integrating each other's viewpoints into our understanding. I do that on a regular basis but it never changes my viewpoints. So I am still trying to figure out what you mean by willing to change in your opening statement. Are you talking about learning new skills or developing new behaviors? Because that is easy and necessary to incorporate depending on the culture you are working in. Whatever type of culture, corporate, institutional, national or racial etc.
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    Feb 20 2012: Hi Kathy,

    What a very interesting question.

    To engage in dialogue, one has to engage in it knowing that one does not know everything.

    Each time I engage in dialogue, it is usually at aspiring to grow in knowledge and understanding
    of another individual, or a topic.

    This has not always been the case though.....I use to sometimes dominate conversations. And,
    I use to think that I was always right....a bit presumptuous of me....I lacked humility and discernment.

    And even now, I have to be very careful when I engage in dialogue, because sometimes what we
    perceive we hear, might not be that at all.

    So, humility, and a listening ear are very important when engaging in conversations.

    Great topic.....I look forward to learning much, as the other TEDsters join in. This conversation
    can go in many, many directions.......hope you are ready....

    Be Well.
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    Feb 20 2012: Hi Kathy,
    You say you "study communication and how it shapes our reality".

    You then state..."Communication is very often thought of as the process by which we articulate our thoughts and ideas--and the more clearly we do that, the more effective our communication is". ...I agree:>)

    You then state..."This, however, is not communication as I study it...it is imposition".

    What is the imposition, in your perception? How can communication, by which we articulate our thoughts and ideas clearly, for more effective communication, be an imposition?

    I read the rest of your indroduction, and find it to be confusing. I am missing your point....or your intent...or whatever.

    My intent is to learn with each and every interaction, so it is easy to answer your main question....
    " What would it take for you to be willing to be changed by your interaction with another?"
    With an open heart and mind, we are automatically influenced by, and changed with each and every interaction.

    I agree with Linda and her commet..."if there is no experience there is no change". That is a choice we make, as individuals, with each and every interaction, and in my perception, answers your topic question:>)
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      Feb 21 2012: Hi Colleen,
      Thanks for your comment. I apologize if the information I provided to explain my question was confusing. Perhaps my intent will be cleared up in this response. If not, please let me know. The imposition in only seeking to articulate your ideas is that you are seeking to impose your thoughts on another--privileging that over seeking to understand the perspective of that other--if our main objective in communication is to clearly articulate our thoughts, we are missing the boat on co-constructing meaning with another person--we are simply seeking their agreement or acceptance of our presentation of our perspective. Communication is often deemed "successful" when it efficiently expresses a thought or idea. When we communicate with the intent of creating our experience with that person, letting the meaning emerge between us without regard for whose viewpoint is dominant or accepted or agreed upon, we are truly communicating to create new meaning.

      As to the notion that experience is the only way to effect change---I agree---but I would argue that without communication, there is no perception of experience. We understand experience through our communication with others--when something occurs, we describe it, we tell stories about it, we recall it for ourselves and for others through language--and others do the same. In discussing these experiences through our communication, they become meaningful for us, for others, for cultures and societies. It is through communication that meaning about these experiences emerges and transforms over time. So I would argue that talk is in fact, not cheap as Linda asserts,..it's constitutive.

      That said, my intent in this question is to get at what it will take to move from the notion that communication is about effectively articulating one's ideas to the more robust idea that communication is about creating new meaning with another communicator--and all that goes into ensure voice in the creation of that meaning.
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        Feb 21 2012: Kathy,
        I don't believe you said anything about ONLY "seeking to impose your thoughts on another--privileging that over seeking to understand the perspective of that other" Of course that is an imposition, and not included in your first statement....."Communication is very often thought of as the process by which we articulate our thoughts and ideas--and the more clearly we do that, the more effective our communication is".

        I agree with your recent statemnt..."When we communicate with the intent of creating our experience with that person, letting the meaning emerge between us without regard for whose viewpoint is dominant or accepted or agreed upon, we are truly communicating to create new meaning"

        You state..."As to the notion that experience is the only way to effect change---I agree---but I would argue that without communication, there is no perception of experience".

        What exactly are you arguing? There is no argument in my perception. It feels like you are arguing with yourself? Perhaps you are trying to discover what it will take for YOU to "move from the notion that communication is about effectively articulating one's ideas to the more robust idea that communication is about creating new meaning with another communicator--and all that goes into ensure voice in the creation of that meaning?".
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        It feels like you have a couple intertwining ideas here, and perhaps it would be helpful to be clear with what you are seeking?
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          Feb 21 2012: I don't quite see where you are getting the idea that I am arguing with myself..The term argument was intended to denote a claim that I would support...not something contentious with you, myself or some other individual. I both respect and appreciate your viewpoint--and see it as an important opportunity to deepen my understanding of the communicative process as it is perceived by those around me. This openness to other perspectives and seeking to understand those perspectives is a basic tenet of dialogue.

          I see dialogue as I have defined it as unique--and as Linda mentions in her response--listening, truly listening is an essential part of the communicative process. This is what I am getting at...can we truly value all perspectives as being of equal importance or are we hindered by the temptation to privilege our own perspective? As we communicate with one another...a process that involves listening and talking...what can we do to ensure that we avoid privileging our own viewpoint? Or, perhaps that is not something everyone sees as desirable...
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      Feb 21 2012: I'm with Colleen on this one. She has nicely summarized what we are trying to find out. Two people can have a dialogue, exchange ideas, have a nice chat but typically that does not create understanding of an experience. It can create an understanding of one persons experience but that's about it. Not much to build change on.

      There are a few ways to create experience.
      1. Immersion. You can go and live with people in a different culture or beliefs. Undergoing an experience and integrate that experience into your own. That is a useful and poignant way to create change within.
      2. You can begin to understand and create meaning from someone else's experience by listening.
      Note the absence of dialogue in the traditional sense. The type of dialogue here is used for clarification. And you need to listen to stories. And you need to listen to many stories until you start to see repeated patterns.

      There are probably more. To truly understand the meaning of an experience you need to LISTEN not communicate.

      It has been my experience that people who cite communication as a strength, typically talk too much.
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        Feb 21 2012: Linda,
        I agree whole-heartedly with you regarding the importance of listening! It is an under-valued, essential part of communication. We do tend to value those who articulate themselves well over and above those who listen well...this is one key element of what I am talking about--thank you for pointing it out more clearly than I did. In a culture that privileges articulation over listening---how can we come to value listening and, I would go further and ask, how can we come to value not only listening, but the willingness to be truly affected by what we hear? How can we encourage these skills so that what we articulate in response moves us closer to a shared meaning?
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          Feb 21 2012: I think we value listening in our culture. I just don't think people know how to leverage listening. The most profound orators understand how to leverage listening. One of my favorite, Maya Angelou. That woman is a profound orator because she knows how to listen. So when she speaks, others listen. The only way to be heard is to listen.

          I don't know how to put it better than that. It's not about the talking, its about the listening. Part of listening is filter. In this society in this time, we are bombarded by noise. Talking heads assault us at every turn. To filter noise and truly listen takes practice.
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          Feb 21 2012: Kathy and Linda,
          I agree that listening is a very important part of successful dialogue, and I do not agree that our culture privileges articulation over listening. As Linda insightfully states in another comment, when we listen, the dialogue flows, so I try NOT to deny myself the opportunity to really listen. and contribute to the flow:>)

          Kathy,
          You ask..."how can we come to value not only listening, but the willingness to be truly affected by what we hear? How can we encourage these skills so that what we articulate in response moves us closer to a shared meaning?"

          I've found the best way to teach or encourage ANYTHING is to DO it..."Be" what we want to "SEE". Unfortunately, when some people have a certain agenda, or viewpoint s/he wants to be accepted, s/he will dominate the conversation without concern for listening. I agree with Linda...the way to be heard, is to listen. Sometimes, listening also means listening to ourselves and how we navigate a conversation...what is our intent? What are we seeking? We need to be clear with ourselves, before we can be clear with others:>)
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          Feb 21 2012: I wanted to get this up before time runs out. I agree with Colleen especially with the se
          f reflective stuff. However, it is good to note that sometimes through dialogue we can facilitate that clarity with ourselves. The whole rehearsal helps us be clearer with ourselves and others.

          Also wanted to note that listening is a skill and it can be taught. I spend a chunck of my time doing that.
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    Feb 20 2012: Mary,
    Thanks for your comments! Humility and recognition of that which we don't know is a huge part of dialogue--it's a great place to start. We do need to recognize that we don't have all the answers, but more than that, we need to recognize that the goal is not to find answers so much as to explore possibilities in our interactions with others--possibilities that can open up room for difference and go beyond tolerating it to valuing it for what it contributes to meaning making. It's a recognition that not only are we not in control of the meaning that emerges, we don't wish to be in control--as that would hinder the process of dialogue and its benefits. That's the scary part for a lot of people--the acceptance of an absence of control over the message that emerges from the interaction.

    So yes, it does take humility and a recognition of our limited understanding...that's an essential and difficult first step. An even more difficult step in this process is possessing a willingness to critically consider the power inherent in the positions of each communicator--and then challenge that so that all voices are heard and can impact the creation of meaning in authentic ways that serve no over-arching perspective, but that are free to develop independent of the dominant cultural perspective. This is the step that I see as the biggest stumbling block in this process, as it impacts and is impacted by the socio-historical and cultural contexts in which the communication occurs.

    I wonder, then, how our ability to do as you suggest is impacted by these contexts...and how we might challenge them so as to create more space for dialogue?