Why Conversation as a Tool

What is vs what should be

“The trouble is that circumstances must dictate what you do. But too many people are looking at ‘what is’ from a position of ‘what should be’.”

[Bruce Lee]

This is a quote from The Warrior Within that says it’s time to start acknowledging where we are starting from rather than where we think we should be. The context was a movie, Return of the Dragon, where he was in a face-off with Chuck Norris. He noted to the Washington Star that Chuck Norris’ style was too rigid, because it was the only style he had been trained in, he did not know how to step out of it or adapt to what is unfolding.

Bruce Lee applied the quote to his style of martial arts, which he considered a ‘no-style’ because, he said, as soon as we take on a method, it traps us and confines us as individuals. The circumstances of our work and lives change constantly, so we need options, and the freedom to use them.

“There should only be tools to use as effectively as possible. The highest art is no art. The best form is no-form.”

We do get attached to technologies, our version of styles, because they come with their own set of features and ways of doing things. Before we realize, we're limiting ourselves based on the constraints of the technology we're using.

The very nature of conversation as a process that happens at many levels makes it a good ‘no-style’ tool to use. For example, we all have ways we use to talk ourselves into doing/not doing things, persuade/dissuade others, and in turn agree/disagree or go along with/question what others say and circumstances dictate. 

Many internal-external actors play a role in creating our reality as well, helping us form and shape opinions, decisions, and actions even as we may not be aware of them initially. We're more interconnected — and interdependent than ever, and yet “despite this worldwide system of linkages, there is, at this very moment, a general feeling that communication is breaking down everywhere, on an unparalleled scale,” says David Bohm in On Dialogue.

We're unable to talk with each other in a way that leads to understanding and potential connection. The dynamics in a group, a business, an entire culture… these relationships and our social nature drive what we pay attention to. Sometimes we go along with decisions even when it comes at a higher cost to our individual values.

Conversation is a tool we can use to reclaim how to pay attention and give a voice to our thoughts and actions. Good communication eludes us when we need it the most, when the stakes are high, opinions are different, and strong emotions are involved.

In Crucial Conversations Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Switzler explain why we do our worst when it matters the most we're designed wrong, our bodies conspire against us in dicey situations, we're under pressure from getting blindsided, we're stumped for lack of perfect practice on how to deal with it, and to top it off, we act in self-defeating ways.

It sounds like Chuck Norris in Return of the Dragon, we resort to what we know, consciously or automatically. Yet dialogue is powerful, the ability to slow things down and check in with each other can help us rescue or prevent so much grief. When we can say, “Hey, can I check something with you?” we avoid what the authors call the Fool's Choice the binary either/or, speak or suffer.

It's foolish to think those are the only two options we have because we don't know what we don't know, and dialogue can help us draw it out in the open. This is how we create shared meaning and introduce fairness and opportunity. When we know more, we can make better decisions.

This is why I talk about conversation as a tool. To take control of the conversation, achieve SMARTER Aims, we need to discover our purpose. Addressing our own needs and desires is a great starting point for approaching others with clarity, energy, and poise.

See also why seeking approval from others is at odds with individual evolution, how barriers are the universal experience, and the universal language of human relationships.