About Communication Skills Learning, Living, Training, Sharing
from the editor: Welcome to our blog of recently added articles, books, essays and teaching materials.
I find it a considerable challenge to be a teacher and advocate of cooperative communication skills in a world continuously at war. But I am inspired by the example of the two sides in the long running Northern Ireland conflict. After generations of armed conflict, the combatants themselves realized that they had created a world in which there was no hope for their own children. That gave them a powerful motivation to do a kind of peacemaking that seemed impossible at the time. In my own family, there were also conflicts that went on for generations, and I can remember the arrival of a baby girl being the impetus for the beginning of family peacemaking. We were either going to pass the troubles on to yet another generation, or we were going to have to start talking and listening to one another in new ways.
In this blog you will find the continuing efforts of the Seven Challenges Workbook extended community to dream the impossible dream, which, it turns out, is not so impossible after all. Last year (2018) we reached about 162,000 people with free communication skills learning/teaching materials! And if you Google for the words, “free communication skills workbook,” The Seven Challenges Workbook comes up at the top of the list. Thank you for making this web site a great success. Gifts in support of this web site will help us continue to extend our reach.
Dennis Rivers — January 2019
Reflections on War, Terror and Human Interaction
Dennis Rivers — 2005 (Revised 2018)
Introduction. For everyone working in the field of communication skills and conflict resolution, the past few years of war and terror attacks have been a time of special catastrophe. Like the buildings of Falluja, Iraq, so many of our hopes and dreams for a better world lie in ruins. The recent bombings of the London subway remind me of how much we need, along with firefighters and paramedics, some deeper understanding of the struggles going on in our world today. We need some sort of intellectual compass to guide us through the storm of claims and counterclaims, alarms and calls to arms.
Many of the topics in this essay are beyond my personal comfort zone, but it is difficult for me to see how any communication trainer can now avoid them. War and terror, however justified they may seem to their participants, are the deepest possible challenges to all visions of cooperative communication, dialogue, compassionate listening and win-win negotiations. If our vision of the life of dialogue is not to wither away, I feel we must creatively and compassionately assert and explain it as an alternative to violence and coercive force.
In the following essay I want to explore some of the limits of coercion, in everyday life and on the stage of the world. For I believe what we are witnessing today could well be described as a giant contest of coercive force, a contest which I imagine all the participants will lose. I also want to explore some possible openings toward hope in this time of great suffering.
Our everyday language suggests that every war has a winner and a loser. One of the purposes of this essay is to explore the dangerous unreliability of this common idea. The idea that every war or contest has a winner and a loser, two possible outcomes, obscures at least two other significant possibilities: that the two sides might mutually destroy one another, a kind of tie of mutual doom, and also that whoever allegedly wins may have to pay costs far beyond what the victory was worth. If these third and fourth options were included in our everyday understanding and discussions of war, people might think more carefully before deciding to take up arms. They might try harder to negotiate, a fifth option. The same thing is true in everyday arguments. We imagine that each argument has a winner and a loser. What that thinking obscures is how often arguments destroy the relationship of the two participants. I view as deeply misleading our common pattern of using games such as chess or football as models for both conflict and communication in life .(read more…)
The Magic of Dialogue
Transforming Conflict Into Cooperation
By Daniel Yankelovich
In this groundbreaking work, famed social scientist and world-famous public opinion expert Daniel Yankelovich reinvents the ancient art of dialogue. Successful managers have always known how to make decisions and mobilize coworkers. But as our businesses continue to expand, conversations and discussions just aren't enough to bring people and their different agendas together anymore. Dialogue, when properly practiced, will align people with a shared vision, and help them realize their full potential as individuals and as a team. Drawing on decades of research and using real life examples, The Magic of Dialogue outlines specific strategies for maneuvering in a wide range of situations and teaches managers, leaders, business people, and other professionals how to succeed in the new global economy, where more players participate in decision-making than ever before.
CHAPTER 1: Overcoming the Dialogue Deficit
Dialogue played a special role in reversing the nuclear arms race and ending the Cold War. Some years after the end of Ronald Reagan’s presidency, George Shultz, who had been Reagan’s secretary of state, asked Mikhail Gorbachev, former president of the Soviet Union, what the turning point in the Cold War had been.
“Reykjavík,” Gorbachev answered unhesitatingly.
He explained that at their meeting in Reykjavík, Iceland, he and Ronald Reagan had for the first time entered into genuine dialogue with each other — a dialogue that extended far beyond their main agenda (arms control) to cover their values, assumptions, and aspirations for their two nations. Gorbachev credited this dialogue with establishing enough trust and mutual understanding to begin to reverse the nuclear arms race.
In Oslo, Norway, in the year before Israel’s prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, was assassinated, a delegation of top-level Israelis and Palestinians, previously implacable enemies, held nonstop dialogue sessions over a period of months. Together they hammered out a blueprint for peace in the Middle East that lasted until Rabin’s violent death upset the political balance.
These are history-making examples of dialogue. But dialogue is not the exclusive property of those who perform on the world stage. It works at all levels of life in ways large and small:
Excerpts from a talk by Dennis Rivers — 20 minutes
This audio file is from a talk that I gave at a Buddhist gathering in San Francisco. In the talk I report on the growing edge of the cooperative communication skills work presented on this site. I have recently been asking myself “what are the deepest life lessons in this work?”, prompted by the fact that The Seven Challenges Workbook is being used by a prison inmate in the Mid-West to coach other inmates, in the hope that they will all be successful at rebuilding their lives and staying out of prison. This talk grew out of our letters and phone calls.
::: A U D I O ::: P L A Y E R :::
By Dennis Rivers, MA. Adapted from from a talk given at the Santa Barbara
Community Counseling and Education Center.
Communication training for a transformed world
using a chambered Nautilus model of skill development,
emphasizing self-help and peer support.
The chambered Nautilus model is a radical alternative to the normal way people think about learning new skills and teaching new skills to others. Please allow me to explain some of the ways in which the self-help and peer support model of learning new skills differs from the professional training model. I’m going to call the professional training model “the normal way” because it is so widely used in schools and colleges around the world.
The normal way
- makes a strong distinction between teachers and learners,
- marks the path of learning as a series of clear steps of limited duration,
- celebrates the completion of the steps with the awarding of certificates and licenses, and
- restricts who can teach to those who have licenses.
Someone other than the learner is in charge of the learning process. The people at the top of this pyramid earn money by providing services to the people at lower levels of the pyramid. The normal way is as much about excluding incompetent practitioners as it is about recognizing competent practitioners. These are two sides of the same licensing process. Because there is not enough room at the top of the pyramid for everyone, in an economic sense, and because not everyone can become high competent within the limits of existing training programs, the normal system must necessarily fail a large percentage, often a majority, of its participants, must declare them to be incompetent.
Every now and then someone observes that any training scheme that fails to produce competence in many of its participants is itself a failure. This is the growing edge of educational thinking around the world. Institutions that intend to help people learn, must themselves learn. Unfortunately, the goal of the normal system right now is not to get everyone across the finish line of competence and excellence, each person receiving whatever help they need in order to make that journey. I think it is important for us to be realistic about the fact that the normal system is set up in such a way that it serves some people well and fails many people. Right now, I simply want to acknowledge that as a fact, and not go into all the arguments about whose fault it is, or about how competition creates excellence, and so on. (I accept that competition creates excellence among at least a few of the competitors. My concern is the ratio of how many become excellent versus the total number who participate. I am also interested in how many become permanently discouraged, because that is part of the cost of any training scheme and needs to be looked at and compared with open eyes. Gasoline that destroyed the engine of every third car would not be considered a great success, only something with great potential.)(read more…)
Reflections on Interpersonal Communication
and the Journey of Becoming a Person
– – –
by Dennis Rivers, MA — Communication Skills Trainer — 1998
In recent years I have taught a series of courses in communication skills to groups of university students who are about to volunteer in prisons, county jails, juvenile halls and other criminal justice institutions. We focus on topics such as the power of supportive listening and how we come to know ourselves better in the process of explaining our experiences to someone. In their role as peer mentors they will be both using their communication skills and encouraging their mentored companions to develop better ways of communicating their way through everyday conflicts. The focus of my class and the focus of peer mentoring is largely tactical, how to listen and express yourself more competently. There are, however, larger issues connected with interpersonal communication and subtle but important transactions going on between coach and trainee. I would like to be able to tell my students, all of them headed toward challenging encounters, just what these issues are, but it has taken longer than I imagined to put the issues into words. In this essay, dedicated to my students, I will be exploring how the way we talk and listen is related to the way we live, so that coaching a person to communicate differently is at the same time coaching a person to live differently.