the art of good conversation

I am getting to that point in my life where sometimes I struggle to find the word in a conversation, sometimes a small everyday kind of word that normally you don’t have to even think about. This doesn’t matter when you are with a group of friends, people who know you, who understand because they are experiencing the same thing, or younger people who think ‘oh it’s just Ruth!!!’

But sometimes you need to put your point across concisely, with clarity so that hopefully people will listen. As a performer I believe I think instinctively, I am used to being in a rehearsal situation where I need to be able to jump up and improvise a situation, not to think about it but just see what happens. In terms of my conversations they tend to be similar, I am not strategic and I certainly don’t think before I speak, which I know has got me into a pickle before now. As I talk I have often focused on people mid sentence to see them staring back at me as if I am speaking an alien language. My usual problem is that if I am talking about something I know about or have created, lets say a performance or cultural event idea, then I talk as if the person listening knows about it as well as I do, I forget to come at it from their point of view. For example I have just created a performance about baseball and when talking to the other creatives working on it, who don’t know the game as well as I do,  I expect them to understand  and therefore I have to repeat myself, with explanations along the way.

Last night a few individual theatre makers within Plymouth all came together to talk about the ever growing Plymouth Theatre scene, a term that has grown to acknowledge an alternative to the Arts Council funded large organisations with the big buildings and resources. Here were graduates at the start of their cultural journey alongside actors and theatre makers who have been in the business for a couple of decades as well as those inbetweeners. From our conversation we realized that no matter what step you are at on your journey you would always be learning, and the one thing to keep us all going and to keep an alternative theatre scene was to communicate with each other, to know we are all in one group and that we can help one another. What was vitally important to everyone was to keep the conversation going.

Which brings me to a new ebook by Karl James, he is the director of the Dialogue Project and conversation is his main tool. I heard A Different Kind of Justice on radio 4 recorded by Karl about restorative justice and it was one of the best radio conversations I have heard. He also works in my world, the theatre world, as a co-director for Tim Crouch, (Adler & Gibb, What Happens to Hope at the end of the Evening, The Author) and his recording of children’s conversations created the fabulous Monkey Bars for Chris Goode and Company which we saw play the Theatre Royal (Drum) in 2012.

The book is called Say it and Solve it and it comes at communication from a business point of view; those work conversations that are going to be difficult, that you are not looking forward to, where the stakes are high. Karl creates a toolkit that takes you through the process from the absolute beginning. Checklists of the time and the space, i.e making the time and creating the space, to navigating your way through the conversation. I don’t belong in the business world of the suit and tie, the nine to five, the conversation at the water cooler but I can see how this book could help me find my way through countless different situations. Talking to an Arts Council advisor, talking to the keyholder of the building I want to use for a performance, talking to students who are all going to be the ‘next big thing’ in the arts.                                                  We all need to re-check our conversation techniques and this looks like a great resource. I wonder if it will help me with short term memory loss, I reckon it will have some tips.

For a free download of the first chapter click on this link.

Look out for What Happens to Hope at the End of the Evening coming to the Theatre Royal (Drum) next Spring.