My Top 10 Lessons-Learned on Taking Conversations to a Deeper Realm

Just a few nights ago at our SPARK event, someone said “this is magical.”

 

He then asked me, “How do you do it? How do you create such an inviting, warm environment that allows for strangers to connect and have meaningful conversations?”

 

My response went something like this:

 

There’s no magic wand. To be honest, I have learned a ton about what NOT to do, so I know what seems to work. Every one of my go-to moves exists because of those lessons-learned.

 

So, today, I offer some reflections and tips to help you when creating conditions for meaningful conversations at YOUR next gathering. The reason I offer this now is because I wish someone would have broke it down like this for me five years ago.

These lessons are things that I’ll always continue to work on, and they’re good reminders when I get stuck. They have been formed after many years of guidance from mentors, facilitating engagements on complex topics, and culling through resources, frameworks, and tools in order to create my roadmap.

 

Thanks to the many ah-ha’s after hosting SPARK Events…I’m excited to offer this list for your consideration:

Top 10 Lessons-Learned On Taking Conversations to A Deeper Realm

 

  1. Be authentic
  2. Have FUN
  3. Prepare with care
  4. Frame the experience
  5. Know when to step up and step back
  6. Embrace differences, seeing others as equals
  7. Listen with curiosity
  8. Remember that conversation is how we construct meaning together
  9. Expect it to be messy at times
  10. Set an intention before the experience
Here are some reflections for your consideration: 
  1. Be authentic

I struggle with the phrase “fake it till you make it”…because it didn’t do me any good. In fact, sometimes “faking it” impacted my relationships and community in detrimental ways.

 

Maybe that’s because I have a terrible poker face. I mean terrible.

 

That said, I believe that people can smell inauthenticity and insincerity from miles away. They’re onto us when we’re faking it. So, why not be authentic and real about where we’re at?

 

People not only appreciate authenticity, but they respect it. Sometimes that involves vulnerability, but that leap of faith is worth it.

Even when I’m in a room full of strangers presenting on a topic that isn’t my favorite–I always ask myself–where can I create space for me to be fully MYSELF? When do I feel most confident and comfortable?

 

Only when I share parts of ME do they get to see my passions and joys, which brings me to my next point.

But before we go there, here’s a question to consider: Where do I feel I can be my most authentic self, and what about that space is so inviting?
  1. Have FUN!

Show enthusiasm and passion if you’re feeling it.
When you love something, it shows.
When you care about something, it shows.

 

I used to think that I had to stick to the script and not show too much of my identity, for fear of messing up. I also used to think that I had to keep a calm, cool, and collected demeanor to appear “professional” or “knowledgeable”…but then I learned one of my biggest lessons.

 

Two things can be true at the same time.

 

I can have fun and be very knowledgeable. I can be strong and graceful. I can have both confidence and be vulnerable at the same time.

 

I now know that it’s better to bring my full self and be transparent with my emotions rather than be “buttoned up” and appear put together.

 

Also, my excitement sets the tone. If I want other people to have fun, then I need to do so as well.

A question to consider: What is one thing that brings you joy when you’re leading or hosting a gathering?
  1. Prepare with care

When I’m preparing for an upcoming gathering, I think about how I want to experience the day, and what I want the experience to be like for my guests.

 

I think about how I can support people into, through, and beyond the experience so they feel fully welcome and seen….and that level of support takes preparation.

I personally always want to design experiences that allow for folks to tap-into something inside of them so they can unleash their full potential. So, when I visualize experiences, I imagine people laughing, leaning-in, smiling, and sharing meaningful connections.

 

Then, I think about how to create space for those things (above) to happen.

 

One of my biggest lessons-learned here is that being prepared is very different than being attached to a plan.

A question to consider: How do I want to FEEL at the end of the gathering? How do you want your guests to walk away feeling?
  1. Frame the experience

How I set up the experience impacts everything. This brings me back to points #1 and #2. For example, if I want people to feel comfortable, have fun, and feel loving energy…then I need to show up confidently in those ways.

When I attend events and gatherings, I like to hear from the host. I particularly appreciate hearing why they chose to put on the event.

A question to consider: Think of an event that was framed really well and allowed you to feel like you could show up as your full self…what did they say? What was it about their opening that impacted you the most?
  1. Know when to step up and step back

 

What it means to Step Back…
I mentioned in my first post on Tuesday that I used to be a perfectionist and control gave me comfort. In hindsight though, I realize that by controlling too much, I didn’t allow for people’s natural leadership. In relinquishing control and stepping back, I was able to see their strengths, assets, gifts, and talents. Naturally people stepped up.

 

Sometimes we become the person we despise the most. Think about a time when you felt micromanaged or a time you went to a gathering when the host needed to control everything. What do you wish they would have done differently?

What it means to Step Up:
Stepping up at the beginning of the gathering is really important (hence #4). Also, I’ve learned to chime in at various points in conversations at pivotal moments, especially for these reasons: 

1) When I notice that some folks are dominating the discussion, or if people haven’t spoken

2) When I see and know people’s strengths and skills, it helps to acknowledge them and invite them to step up

3) Close the event with as much care as you opened it.

A question to consider: When was the last time you wanted to speak up but you stepped back to let others share instead? What happened as a result?
  1. We embrace our differences, seeing each other as equals     

 

Making space for multiple perspectives to be shared is part of the process.

 

Positions of power and authority don’t help meaningful conversations bear fruit.
Especially if I’m hosting a gathering with folks of different racial backgrounds, it’s important that I acknowledge difference when it feels appropriate, and check my assumptions.

When multiple perspectives are shared and there’s space to ask questions about other people’s experiences, I always learn something new.

Here’s the thing: we need each other to be better community members.

 

“You don’t get harmony when everybody sings the same note.” -Doug Floyd

 

The first step to singing in harmony is in truly listening to one another, which takes me to my next point.

A question to consider: What are your go-to questions or moves you have to ensure that you’re not making an assumption about another person’s identity?
  1. We listen with curiosity about each other

 

Listening with curiosity is no small feat.

 

Listening with not just my ears–but also my eyes, my heart, my open-mind–that requires a different skill. I mentioned this in my post on Wednesday when discussing courage, but being present and truly listening–that is a gift.

A question to consider: Can you think of a time when you heard something you didn’t agree with, but instead of judging you chose to pause and be curious–rather than certain–about someone else’s experience?
8. Remember that conversation is how we construct meaning together   

 

I offer this reminder toward the end of my list, because once #1-7 are in place, this fits right in.

 

For centuries people have connected and solved problems by sharing experiences and telling stories. We don’t need an App or screen or even a tool. Often times, all we need is ourselves, our openness, and our curiosity.

A question to consider: When was the last time you hosted a conversation that was especially meaningful and fulfilling? What was it about that conversation? What was in place that made it so great?
9. Expect it to be messy at times
Whatever messy means to you, expect a little bit at some point, and you’ll likely feel more prepared if and when the energy in the room shifts.
Anticipate tension. Here’s the letter I shared the other day in case it’s helpful to remember.

 

If you don’t like “messiness” or tension, sometimes it helps to list out all the “worst case scenarios” just to get them out of your head.

 

Then consider this: Is there anything on the list you haven’t experienced before? Anything you don’t know how to handle? Likely the answer is no.

 

You have what it takes to get through even the WORST CASE SCENARIO. That’s remarkable actually.  At that point, feel free to rip up your list or throw it away.

 

Let your anxieties go, and remind yourself that messiness and struggle help communities grow.

10. Set an intention before the experience

 

“All meaningful change starts on the inside” -Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

 

A big assumption I used to make was that everything would be fine just because the right people were in the room.

 

As a host of an experience, I have found that setting an intention–for how I want to be experienced–helps me.

 

Then, throughout the day, when I allow myself to slow down, think, and reflect back on that intention…I notice a big difference.

Here’s a sentence to try completing: For my upcoming gathering, I intend to be_____and I want people to experience me as_______.
SPEAKING OF SETTING INTENTIONS…

 

If you’re interested in being a part of an exclusive fireside chat with Lia and I tomorrow morning, we’ll be sharing our conversation with you about closing out 2016 strong and reflecting on intentions for 2017.

 

Keep a look-out in your inboxes in the next 24 hours! In addition to announcing who the winners are (of the awesome raffle prizes) tomorrow…we’ll be sharing a special video from our hearts to you!!

Sending many many sparks of love and light your way as you close out 2016 strong and begin 2017 with your own intentions. <3
Now, I’d love to hear from YOU!

  • What stood out or resonated today?
  • What’s one thing you want to try out this next month?
  • What else would you like to hear more about?
As I close I want to appreciate and recognize the sources that played a big role in helping me create this list. My mentors at the National Equity Project have played a tremendous role in my leadership development. Another resource that has been very formative for me is called the Art of conversation, Adopted from Arrien, A. (2001) “The Way of the Teacher: Principles of Deep Engagement” in L. Lantieri, Linda. Schools with spirit : nurturing the inner lives of children and teachers. Beacon Press, Boston. 
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