Talking Story

I have been doing some thinking about what it means to have a culture that is self aware and how that would distill down to the level of individual values and relationships between people.  I've been specifically thinking about verbal or physical communication between individuals.  



The story is a way to connect people powerfully with one another.  It can be both receptive and directive, although is mostly composed of non-directed communication.  A story is embellished to varying extents with the unique perspective of the person telling it.

In a culture that is self aware, and on a level of individual relationships, people come to know one another deeply through the telling of stories. In polinesean cultures, the idea of 'talking story' is alive in the culture.

It seems like a culture that is self aware tells itself lots of stories.  The stories that people tell in self aware cultures:

  1. make reference to place
  2. are embellished, but not too embellished
  3. teach
  4. express emotion
  5. use all 5 senses
  6. hold space for mystery or the unknown

The truth is that everything we say to one another is some form of story telling.  In our culture we rely a lot on rational determinism and scientific falsifiability for things communications that require definition (legal, scientific, business related).  We take the embellishment out.  In some senses, stories are truer than the rational truth because they have surgically removed the individual telling them.


Talking to One Another

It occurred to me that the way communications are best structured to promote self awareness and collaboration rely on the individual voice of the person communicating in cultures that are self aware.  We can use the building blocks of language forms skillfully to communicate with one another.  These building blocks can be words or phrases.  In this exercise the building blocks are 'forms' of communication:  collections of words, sentences and phrases that are deployed towards a specific end.  

Let me explain by example.  If I were to break all communication down into 'forms' it might look something like this:


  1. the Request: this is a QUESTION in which we ask another to take ACTION.  In a request, you are exerting a measure of control over the direction that the communication goes.  To use skillfully, it requires a deep knowing of the person being requested on, and is usually in this way paired with another communication form like the Acknowledgment (skillful use) or the Statement (somewhat unpredictable and therefore an unskillful pairing in most situations).  
  2. the Question/Clarification: this is a QUESTION in which you specifically request FEEDBACK or information.  The idea is one of having an open hand and being receptive and open, and in this way it differs profoundly from the Request.  This is a form that is used liberally in successful communications.
  3. the Statement: this is a proclamation of something that is true for you and to which the other person can respond in any way they please.  In a statement, you are opening yourself up to a loss of control over where and how the conversation proceeds next.  It is most unskillfully used most often in combination with the Expression (which is often used to add muscle to the Statement), or with the Request (in which it is most unskillfully and often an unsubtle directive being asserted with power and force instead of reason).
  4. the Apology/Forgiveness:  two sides of the same coin.  This is when you either ask for forgiveness, or you offer forgiveness to someone else.  This form of communication requires a level of vulnerability in either case, but it seeks to find an equal playing field between two people, and acts as a release valve for stored tension.  Done in a pure way, it is nearly always met with success.
  5. the Suggestion/Offer: this form of communication tends to backfire on people because, like the Statement, it really requires a deep knowing of the person you are connecting with – mostly because similar to the Request, it is asking something of the person – either to receive something from you, or to assume a direction.  It's used often to give unsolicited advise, but is more skillfully used to give support to the other person.
  6. the Expression: this is a proclamation of something that is true for you.  It should not be used ever to say what is true for someone else.  Typically an expression is best and most suitably and skillfully followed by a Question/Clarification.  There is some vulnerability in an expression, but much less than in the Apology/Forgiveness.  The Apology/Forgiveness form often relies on the Expression as a way to soften the heart and bring the conversation to a level of feeling.  
  7. the Acknowledgment:  this is when you verbalize something that you recognize in the other person.  It is unskillfully used sometimes to say mean things that hurt the other person, but mostly (and most skillfully) is used to recognize something positive or unique or inspiring in the other person.  Is used skillfully in the apology if it sticks to the positive.  This form deteriorates quickly and powerfully when used in a negative way.
  8. the Response: this form of communication can and is most skillfully used to respond to a Question/Clarification.  It is very unskillfully used sometimes in response to a Statement, and can be very valiantly used to cut someone down who is being open and vulnerable as in response to the Appology/Forgiveness or the Expression.  It is a powerful form of communication in that you have the ability and opening in the conversation to exert control over the direction and tone, and therefore should only be used skillfully.

These forms have a personality and almost a strategy.  Some are better used in certain instances than others, and they can all be used with varying levels of finesse or skill.  What I wonder is if patterns can be deduced. 

Similar to 'games' that require strategy - chess, politics, martial arts, thumb wars - can we develop a 'library' of moves and counter moves – like a 'best practices' of sorts – governing the use of language in a way that will 'guarantee' win/win outcomes?  I imagine that there is a version of this being developed or which has been developed for use in politics. 

Anyone?  Comments welcomed!