The Art of Conversation (and the jazz analogy)


I had been mulling over the role of listening in communications – both online and offline –  for some time, and when I went recently to the 606 Club, lots of stuff became clearer.

Ready for a jazz analogy?

I don’t know much about jazz, but I’d been to the 606 a few times and liked the sound of Brazilian musician Chico Chagas.  I wasn’t disappointed – I was in the presence of genius.  Here’s why:

Chico and his band of three others all played different instruments (piano, sax, accordion, bass, drums).  What they created was fascinating.

Jazz, I realised, is all about interplay, assertion, suggestion.  It’s the perfect conversation!

And to achieve that, you simply have to listen.

Listen to jazz and you’ll hear the bassline – the theme of the conversation.  It’s never the big news or bright idea, but without it you’d be lost.  It keeps everything on course, and allows you the freedom to explore other ideas, but to be able to come back again and find your place.

The piano is fairly opinionated. It tends to lead the conversation. Someone has to. A conversation needs something solid to get it started, a path, guidance.

So away we go, so far so good.

Now the sax may echo something the piano said, but say it in a different way, suggest another angle. Good conversation allows ideas to be validated, re-examined or turned upside down. But sometimes the sax disagrees, and tries a different angle, or tries out dischord (which can work beautifully too). That’s what conversation is all about.

What I’m getting to is this:  Imagine in jazz if no-one listened at all? Everyone doing their own thing wouldn’t equate to something relevant or rewarding, whether in jazz or in a conversation. Or worse still, what is everyone was saying the same thing and not venturing something new? Jazz musicians learned a long time ago that listening is just as important as saying your piece.  Listening is at least 50% of a conversation and without it, jazz just ain’t jazz.

Of course we know that listening is important.  But putting it into practice is hard.  And in social media in particular, if we want meaningful exchange and insightful learnings, we’ve got to put listening at the top of our priorities.  Less broadcasting, more listening.  Your online footprint will be all the more interesting for it.

PS: I liked this quote I read last week.  “Wisdom is your reward for spending a lifetime listening when you would rather have been talking”. I’ll second that.

PPS: This is an open invitation to like-minded people to come and hear a great conversation at the 606, jazz-style.  I’d love to hear what you think and this analogy and whether it stands up, or can be taken further!

Kate Spiers is founder of Wisdom London and now a massive fan of jazz.  And trying very hard to listen more.

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