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Creating a space for conversation
Pass it on
Pass it on
I'm reading
Creating a space for conversation
Pass it on
Pass it on
I'm reading
Creating a space for conversation
Pass it on
Pass it on
Articles
5 July 2013

Creating a space for conversation

With complete strangers, you can find yourself discussing all manner of subjects; these conversations are notably deeper, more confronting, more fulfilling and more fun than usual.

Written by Mele-Ane Havea

Behind extraordinary ideas, there are extraordinary people. Dumbo Feather is a magazine about these people.

The School of Life ten week summer term launched in early 2013 in Collingwood, Melbourne on Australia Day. Jam-packed with powerful content, (largely coming from The School of Life, UK) the program promised to provide attendees with much food for thought and practical tools on how to live a life with authenticity and meaning. From ‘fulfilling your potential’, to ‘filling a God shaped hole’, to ‘making love last’, or ‘preparing for death’, the program did not shy away from the tough questions, instead celebrating our shared human need to engage with them.

But I’m not here to talk about what happened inside the classes (although for all intents and purposes the feedback has been great!) – I want to share what happened outside.

The space outside the classroom comprised of the Readings pop-up bookshop, the Dumbo Feather Conversation café, and a garden space filled with colourful tables, arrangements of succulents and a wall of repurposed red milk crates.

I spent one weekend managing the space and, in addition to welcoming attendees to the class and serving coffee, I found myself in a number of conversations. Now for me, this is not unusual. I am a chatty person who loves nothing more than a great conversation, but, I have to say, these conversations were different. These conversations were notably deeper, more confronting, more fulfilling and more fun than usual. With complete strangers, I found myself discussing all manner of subjects: lost love and new love, the obligation to imprint your knowledge and opinions on your children, the power of culture in shaping identity and finally, the impact of childhood on development. During these conversations I laughed and I cried and, I kid you not, this was all in a 48-hour period.

After this marathon of incredible discussions, I thought hard about what it was that had allowed these conversations with relative strangers to occur. What was different in these interactions? How was I different? How does one create a space for conversation?

This is what I came up with:

The power of context

On reflection, the context was right. With Conversation Menus on the tables, provocative workshops taking place next door and a bookshop filled with the writings of thought leaders, is it any wonder that these types of conversations took place? The fact that the wall was filled with H-artefacts of lost love – painfully documenting break ups – meant that a whispered conversation about my own heartbreak seemed fitting. There is no doubt that it is harder to engage in such discussions in the line for coffee in the morning, in the elevator on your way to work, or in the doctor’s waiting room.

Context plays a major part: the physical space is important.

The power of vulnerability and openness

Another noticeable quality of these conversations was that defensiveness and barriers were noticeably absent and had been replaced with a candid honesty. On reflection, this was both on my behalf and on behalf of my conversation partners. So what is this? This is being authentic and real in a conversation; this is saying what you want to say even though you are afraid the other person may judge you. This is being vulnerable in an interaction with someone else and thus allowing that person to also be vulnerable with you.

Being vulnerable and open plays a major part: allowing someone else to access that space within you, without the barriers and defensive walls, is important.

The power of listening

When reflecting on these conversations, I realised also that there was a stillness to our interactions. When I asked a question, there was space for the person to answer, a space I did not try to invade with my own thoughts or questions. This quiet listening, when given to another, gives a person the space to explore an answer with consideration and time.

Listening carefully plays a major part: respecting the space between you and the person is important.

Mele-Ane Havea

Mele-Ane comes to Dumbo Feather with a varied background, from corporate law to community and human rights law, with an Oxford MBA thrown in for good measure. At business school and the Skoll Centre for Social entrepreneurship, Mele-Ane became enamoured by the idea of social and responsible business, and the power of story-telling. When not rallying the troops at Dumbo Feather, she works on a number of projects that promote the idea of business as force for good, in particular with the B corporation movement.

 

Image: The School of Life.

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