Can We Talk?

Watching Johnny Carson host The Tonight Show kept me up past my bedtime as an adolescent and teenager. Although I loved Johnny, it was his (groundbreaking) substitute host, Joan Rivers who inspired me. I loved imitating her signature question, “Can we talk?”

Can we talk about conversation?

During an interview with journalist David Brooks, NBC’s Mike Barnicle shared his perspective on this topic: “We live in a no eye contact nation.” In business, politics, and family life we have to make an extra effort to talk to one another without the interference of a technology platform. One effective way to talk to anyone (whether or not we “agree”) is to follow our curiosity – that makes for great conversation.

Sara McMahon/Radha Ganesan

Can we talk about human connection?

Last month the Applied Improvisation Network held its annual conference at Stony Brook University in conjunction with the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science. Alda, the featured speaker, engaged in a rich dialogue with Dr. Laura Lindenfeld (Director of the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science) and Aretha Sills, teacher of improvisational theatre and granddaughter of Viola Spolin. Spolin’s methods, discoveries, and writings gave birth to the modern improvisational theater movement. Spolin’s son and Aretha’s father, Paul Sills, co-founded The Second City and created Story Theater, among other accomplishments. Alda reminded the international audience of applied improv practitioners of the human need for connection, “We want to hear stories.” Through improvisational play we, “discover ourselves in the other’s eyes.”

Can we talk about open space?

After two days of open space offerings at the Global Improvisation Initiative conference in London in May, I’ve become a fan. Open space technology is a powerful tool for engaging large and small groups of people in discussions to explore particular questions or issues. It can be used with groups of 10 to 1,000 people. In contrast with pre-planned conferences where presentations are scheduled months in advance, participants self-organize to create their own agenda, allowing a dynamic and immediate response to the issues at hand. Open space is participant-driven, requiring discussion and dialogue amongst attendees. How can open space foster more conversation and creativity in your organization?

Can we talk?

Let’s have a conversation about what you’re working on and how I can help. SCHEDULE A CALL TODAY! 

Interviewing – It’s a Performance! (Part One)

It might seem counter-intuitive but my experience as an executive search consultant and coach is that the role of interviewer can be more challenging than being interviewed.  While job seekers rehearse (prepare) for interviews, interviewers are often busy executives who have been asked to interview candidates along with the many other responsibilities that all too often take priority, absorbing most of their attention.

Unfortunately, many of us have been in the “bad interview” play from one side or the other – the interviewee arrives at the interviewers office and that busy executive that is conducting the interview is winging it.  S/he is distracted.  Perhaps running late.  Whirling around in the interviewer’s head are things like: “Did I see a resume on this person?  What job is she/he interviewing for?  I don’t have time for this.  I’ve interviewed so many people this week I can’t get my work done.  What core competencies am I supposed to be interviewing for, anyway?”  Meanwhile, the interviewee wonders why s/he is not being asked thoughtful questions.  When recruiters debrief candidates about an interview it is not unusual to hear, “The interviewer did all the talking.”

There’s a lot to do in an interview – assess skill level, cultural fit, leadership and emotional intelligence to name a few.  And there is often a need to sell a talented candidate on the job and the company.  The hiring manager has a responsibility to organize her/his team to appreciate that talent acquisition is critical part of their job, to create an environment where the candidate feels respected and valued, and to clarify what each interviewer is looking for in her/his interview.  While one person might be interviewing for cultural fit, another might be digging into the candidate’s skill set.

Now, I’m all for improvising (vs. rehearsing and learning lines) but it’s good to remember that a well trained improviser is always making her/his partner look good.  We are very keyed into “the other.”  We are active listeners.  

Above all else I think the job of any interviewer is to create a conversation.  A performance for the interviewer might be to lead and enjoy the activity of creating conversation.  Be in the present and be present as an active listener.  Be thoughtful.  Go slowly.  Let the conversation unfold.  Follow your curiosity.  What does it take to get to know the person?  Take a risk.  Go somewhere together.  Allow space for their questions and be as honest and direct as possible in answering.

A great resource for interviewers is Adam Bryant’s weekly column in The New York Times – The Corner Office – Bryant does a great job of interviewing hiring managers about how they interview and usually asks his subject’s for their favorite questions.

Have a great show!

Building conversation (philosophically speaking)

I am very fortunate to be studying philosophy with Dr. Fred Newman, a brilliant “people’s philosopher” and long time mentor, colleague and friend. Fred has been giving our Developmental Philosophy Group practical training in the art of discourse.

We are learning how to talk to one another. It turns out that most of us are not particularly skilled in building a conversation and in speaking to each other without putting ourselves at the center of the conversation. Fred asked us, “What if you eliminated the self all together and think only of the other?”.

Not surprisingly we were able to build more in our conversations. After all, we live in an “arrogant culture” where we often don’t think others have much to say. We try to say “the right thing” in order to be the smartest person in the room. It turns out that “saying something right” stultifies the conversation.

This way of conversing goes on everywhere and especially in business. It’s an individuated way of knowing and relating. A building versus a knowing learning model is where creativity and innovation live. We all have the capacity to build, organize, help each other and create conversation. It’s a lot more intimate and, frankly, it might just be the right thing to do!

Live from New York … It’s a phone call!

This morning I was reading the New York Times article “How Much Technology Is Too Much?” on my iPhone. Now I’m blogging with an app, I’ll log on to my digital desktop, check my emails and then … I’ll make old fashioned phone calls.

In the executive search business the phone call, the conversation, is the key ingredient for success. If you’ve been reading this blog you may know that I’m fairly obsessed with relationships. Search is a relational business and I would say all business is relational. Humans are a social, relational species.

I suspect that my love of theatre and improvisation has everything to do with the fact that it is live theatre. Being in the moment with people is intimate.

Creating a live conversation can be a joyous experience of discovery about the other person (and ourselves). Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of technology but maybe next time instead of an email make a phone call instead,