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This website contains ideas that are "in process." Simply put, what you read here may be just some random thoughts, rather than validated and final procedures. Mind you, aren't most ideas "in process?" The bulk of what you'll read here are answers to questions I am emailed or asked during presentations, or summaries of excellent ideas others share with me.

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Requirements for Dialogue

On Facebook a while back Cathy Toll asked her friends an interesting question:  "What books have had the biggest influence on your life?"  As I've been working on writing Unmistakable Impact, I realized that a book that should go on that list for me is Paulo Friere's Pedagogy of the Oppressed.  I've read the book again and again, and each review rewards me with new insights about how people can work together as partners.


What I uncovered this time--written on just a couple pages in the middle of the book--are his requirements for dialogue.  For my book, I used the requirements as the structure for my discussion of dialogue. Here's what I wrote:

Friere has identified five requirements for dialogue: humility, faith, love, critical thinking and hope. Each provides an excellent point of departure for this introduction to dialogue.

            Humility. “Men who lack humility (or have lost it) cannot come to the people, cannot be their partners in naming the world … Dialogue cannot exist without humility” (Freire, p. 79). People who take the partnership approach recognize that humility is a necessary precondition for dialogue. After all, if I know it all, what could I possibly learn from you?

            Humility is manifested in many actions during dialogue. First, we need to go into conversations as learners more than teachers.  When we talk with others with the goal of learning from them, rather than teaching them, our entire way of conversing changes. We begin as listeners and turn the focus onto our partners.  During dialogue, the humble communicator is fully present, paraphrasing what is heard, hearing the emotion and meaning of what is said in addition to the actual words. 

Humility means, too, that we are more concerned with getting things right than being right.  Therefore we ask good questions, real questions, that we don’t know the answer to, and then we listen for the answer. We stop trying to persuade and start trying to learn. As David Bohm has written, “If something is right, you don’t need to be persuaded. If somebody has to persuade you, there is probably some doubt” (Bohm, On Dialogue, p. 15).

Too often our conversations are self-centered rather than learning-centered.  When this is the case, we listen for evidence that our conversation partners agree with us, and when people don’t agree, we work hard to show them we are right and they are wrong.

Humility in dialogue often means that we simply withhold our opinion so that we can hear others. This may involve a kind of radical honesty. Rather than covering up the flaws in our argument, or hiding our ignorance, in dialogue, we should display the gaps in our thinking for everyone to see.  If we want to learn, we can’t hide behind a dishonest veneer of expertise.  Indeed, treating others as equals demands that we tell them truthfully about what we believe, assume, know, and do not know.

In dialogue we humbly let go of the notion that there is only one right answer—our answer!—and we see conversation as a testing ground for ideas. If the purpose of conversation is learning, then the last thing we should be doing is confirming our own misconceptions by solely seeking others who see the world the same as us.  As  David Bohm has said, “If you are defending a position, you are pushing out what is new” (Bohm, On Dialogue, p.15).

            Humility also lays the foundation for one of the most important practices within dialogical conversations—questioning assumptions.  Usually, our assumptions go unquestioned, and we assume that what we assume is the truth. We take our assumptions for certainties, and this leads to many conflicts and failures of understanding when we encounter other people whose unquestioned assumptions conflict with ours.  Dialogical conversations at their best enable us to explore our assumptions, through conversation, so that we will be better able to learn from others.

            Faith. “Faith in man is an a priori requirement for dialogue; the ‘dialogical man’ believes in other men even before he meets them face to face” (Friere, p. 79).  When I engage in dialogue, I truly recognize that those I speak with are equal to me, and I work from the assumption that they hold within them wisdom, knowledge, ideas, and gifts.  When we take an anti-dialogical approach and tell people what to do without listening, or try to persuade people to do what we think is best for them, without their choice or voice, we show a profound lack of respect for their humanity. Dialogue is never manipulative; it is grounded in  free conversation between people who respect each other as equals. If we are equals, then I should value your words as much as I value my own.

            When we have faith in others, we let go of the notion that we need to control them, tell them what to do, or hold them accountable. We see people as autonomous individuals deserving of our respect. William Isaacs elaborates on respect in his book Dialogue (1999).

Respect is not a passive act.  To respect someone is look for the spring that feed the pool of their experience… At its core, the act of respect invites us to see others as legitimate. We may not like what they do or say or think, but we cannot deny their legitimacy as beings. In Zulu, a South African language, the word Sawu bona is spoken when people greet one another and when they depart.  It means “I see you.”  To the Zulus, being seen has more meaning than in Western cultures.  It means that the person is in some real way brought more fully into existence by virtue of the fact that they are seen (Isaacs, Dialogue, p.111).

When I have faith in my conversation partners, there is a much greater chance, too, that they will trust me.  Without mutual trust there is little chance that a conversation will be open enough for dialogue to occur.

            Love. “If I do not love the world—if I do not love life—if I do not love men—I cannot enter into dialogue”  (Freire, p. 78). Dialogue is only possible if we have empathy for others. In dialogue, we start by being empathetic, respectful, and non-judgmental rather than taking the superior approach and starting by judging others. When we are empathetic toward others, when we move from love rather than control, we recognize our mutual humanity, the great bonds we share with others just because we are all people. This is especially important for people with whom we disagree. Isaacs, again, recognizes empathy as a core part of dialogue: 

One lens that can reduce the temptations to blame and increase respect is to listen to others from the vantage point that says,  “This, too, is in me.”  Whatever the behavior we hear in another, whatever struggle we see in them, we can choose to look for how these same dynamics operate in ourselves (p. 124).

            Love is necessary for dialogue but love can also be created by dialogue.  As Bohm writes, “love will go away if we can’t communicate and share meaning… However, if we can really communicate, then we will have fellowship, participation, friendship, love, growing, and growth” (p. 41).

            Critical Thinking.  “Only dialogue … is … capable of generating critical thinking” (Freire, p. 81). When we go into conversation to confirm our views rather than to learn, we choose to think by ourselves rather than with others.  If I only want to hear you tell me that you agree with me, then I don’t really want to hear your thoughts at all. If we really want to learn from a conversation, we are wise to go into it looking for ideas that disprove our way of thinking rather than looking for confirmations that our opinion is right.

            Dialogue is the thinking approach to communication.  In the best situation, our ideas flow back and forth so freely that we truly start to think together, we reach a point where we lose sight of whose ideas are whose.  Such conversation is energizing, humanizing, and the most natural way for partners to communicate.

            Hope. “Dialogue cannot be carried on in a climate of hopelessness. If the dialoguers expect nothing to come of their efforts, their encounters will be empty, sterile, bureaucratic and tedious” (Freire, p. 80).  Dialogue cannot occur when people are paralyzed by hopelessness.  Dialogue can only flourish in situations where there are many possibilities.

            In part, this means, that a conversation that is dialogical can only be so when it is open-ended. If I come to you with a plan and I expect you to implement it, I am clearly not engaging in dialogue. Dialogue occurs when we start by trying to understand together, when we listen and learn rather than tell and resist. 

            Hope too, for me at least, means that even act of dialogue is a hopeful act, a sign that we believe a better future is possible.  When I listen to you, and you listen to me, we are better for the experience, and there is always the hope that we can create something new and better, that we can advance thought, and, through dialogue, create a better tomorrow.



Resources for public speakers

This is an excerpt from a draft of my next book, Unmistakeable Impact, which describes what we can do to have excellent instruction for every student, in every classroom, every day.  While writing about workshops, one of six parts of an Impact School, it occurred to me that someone else might want to use some of these resources now, so I'm posting this excerpt.


Whatever success I’ve had as a presenter and workshop leader I give credit to the authors of the many books I’ve read. I’ve included a little information about some of the most useful books here:

Design: Garr Reynolds and Nancy Duarte have started a revolution in the way people use PowerPoint, Keynote or other slide software.  Reynold’s Presentation Zen: Simple ideas on presentation design and delivery and Presentation Design: Simple design principles and techniques to enhance your presentations and Nancy Duarte’s  slide:ology: The Art and Science of Great Presentations are beautiful, practical books that illustrate by their design as much as by their words why design-thinking is an important part of creating a workshop or presentation.  Reynolds’ books make the case for better design in the use of PowerPoint, and Duarte, who collaborated with Al Gore to develop the slides for his presentation An Inconvenient Truth, provides multiple design suggestions that can help anyone improve the look of their slides.  Their work is very important because three years from now, I expect, a poorly designed slide presentation will be create as negative an impression as a grammatically incorrect piece of writing does today.

Reynold’s blog is and you can follow him on Twitter: @PresentationZen.  Duarte’s design company is at, her blog is and you can follow her on Twitter: @nancyduarte.

Delivery: Bert Decker is internationally recognized as an expert in presenting and in You’ve got to be Believed to be Heard he provides outstanding advice on important topics like maintaining energy, eye contact, being persuasive and making an emotional connection.  He also has a great approach to planning a presentation, and he talks about the power of video as a learning tool for presenters. 

Carmine Gallo has two books that I’ve learned a lot from.  His book The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs holds a magnifying glass up to Steve Jobs and describes how he meticulously prepares for presentations, the zen-like simplicity of Job’s slides, his posture, verbal delivery, use of video, props, and guest speakers, and his “twitter-ready” simple and precise language.

In 10 Simple Secrets of the World’s Greatest Business Communicators Gallo proposes, with a bit of his tongue in his cheek, the following eleven secrets: 1.  Be passionate, use your head to reach their heart; 2. Inspire your audience by getting them to care about your message; 3. Prepare, then toss the script; 4. Start strong but don’t bury the lead; 5. Clarity, lost the jargon or lose your audience; 6. Brevity, keep it short; 7. Say it with style; 8. Command presence through body language; 9. Wear it well, the way you dress speaks volumes; 10. Reinvent yourself, continually improving your speaking skills; and 11. Believe you belong, the success of your presentation will be direct result of the vision you hold of yourself as a speaker.

Decker’s blog is and you can follow him on Twitter @BertDecker. Carmine Gallo’s blog is and you can follow him on Twitter @carminegallo.

Stories:  There are many great books on story telling, but Stephen Denning’s The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling has been most helpful to me.  His book makes a great argument for the importance of stories—he says that storytelling “is an equal partner with abstractions and analysis  as a key leadership discipline” (xv) and he offer great suggestions on how to craft and tell the right story for the right situation.  For example, he explains that a story designed to encourage change is most effective when told using a minimalist style so that “it leaves plenty of room for the audience to imagine a new story in their context” (p. 62). 

There are many other great books on stories, but I’ve found Annette Simmon’s The Story Factor, and John Walsh’s The Art of Storytelling to be especially helpful.  Dan and Chip Heath's  Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die and Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind provide great insights into why stories are important and how to craft and deliver them.  Pink identifies story as one the essential six senses necessary for a right-brained approach to life, necessary for success in a future he describes as a conceptual age.

You can find Daniel Pink’s blog at: and follow him on Twitter: @DanielPink.  The Heath brothers’ blog is at: and they write an excellent online column for  The people at provide a venue for people to interview loved ones, and then post their stories on the site.  There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of stories that are profound, humorous, heart-breaking, and inspirational.  I’ve learned a lot by listening to stories on this site.

TED. One of the best ways to improve as a presenter is to watch many of the world’s best presenters on the website.  TED, which stands for technology, entertainment, and design, is an annual conference attracting 3,000 of the world’s most creative and articulate people to Long Beach, California. Their presentations, usually no more than 20 minutes, make for riveting watching, and, for me at least, TED might be the best site on the web.


Three Ways to Save Time

Over the past few months, I’ve implemented three new practices that have helped me save time.  They’re not my ideas.  They either come from David Allen’s Making it All Work or Scott Belsky’s Making Ideas Happen.  The strategies are as follows:

1. Kick email’s butt.

Email has been kicking my butt for the past three years at least.  I’d say I’ve spent between 15 and 20 hours a week trying to keep up with email during that time, and to be honest, I’ve hated the experience.  Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for and enjoy almost all the emails I get, but I hate the feeling of falling behind and watching my inbox fill up with more and more stuff.  Then it is doubly troubling to feel buried under email, and I have spent way too much time trying to catch up and apologizing for my late replies.  In fact, I’ve gone several month’s in a row, many times, never getting to the zen-like purity of an empty inbox.

For the past three week’s though, I’ve been kicking email’s butt.  I spend no more than 2 hours a day on it, often much less, and I have an empty inbox almost every day. 

What I do now is simple. I just do my email in order from the top to the bottom everyday at a certain time.  No matter what the email asks of me, I never skip it. Now I just deal with whatever is in my box, in the order I see it, as quickly as I can.


This simple strategy means that I am much more efficient. My replies are usually quite short, four sentences or less, and I don’t spend as much time thinking about what I’ve received.  I just deal with it, and fire it off.  My goal each time I sit down to do email, and I set aside specific times, usually at the end of the day, is to clean out the inbox, no matter what.  This also mean that I forward tasks on to others who might be able to respond better than I—sorry if you’ve gotten one of these emails, by the way.  Whenever I can forward it on, now, I do, and I ask the person receiving the email to cc me on their reply so I know that it has been done.

My replies may not be as detailed and well-thought through as they used to be, but I think people prefer a quick response to a more detailed response that arrives too late to be used.  What’s more, I love the look of an empty inbox.

2. Keep a physical inbox and clear it out once a week.

This is a David Allen idea.  I now have two physical inboxes (one at home and one at KU), and whenever I receive a bill, a form, a request that requires a written response, or some similar task, I toss it into my inbox.  Stuff for my KU work, I put in the inbox at KU. Stuff for my company, The Instructional Coaching Group, or for my personal life, I toss into the inbox at home.  I also put notes to myself into the box, listing mechanical little tasks that I have to do, like, “update my iPod with the new Josh Ritter CD,” or “write thank you letter to Fred.”

Then, once a week, usually Sunday afternoon at home, and Monday afternoon at KU, I deal with everything in the box.  Just like my email, I start at the top and power through until I’m done. 

I like doing this for two reasons.  First, I stay on top of tasks, which feels great.  Second, I stay focused on creative tasks when I’m doing them.  Now, when I am doing something like writing or developing a presentation, and some kind of mechanical task shows up like a bill to be paid, I don’t feel the need to deal with it right away. I just put it in the inbox and get back to being creative.

The way I think when I am writing or doing some other creative act, is not the way I think when I am paying bills or writing to get a refund from United Airlines for a cancelled flight.  By putting tasks in the inbox right when I get them, I’m able to stay in the creative way of thinking without letting the task derail me.  Then when I clear the inbox, I can do it with gusto.

3. File notes by month, not topic. 

I have a confession. I have been terrible about filing my notes after meetings.  Usually, I write notes, and they pile up on my desk or on the top of a filing cabinet.  Then, if I need them, I can’t find them.  Well, Scott Belsky taught me a whole new way to file and I love it.

What I now do is simply date my notes and put them into a folder labeled with the current month.  I file them chronologically.  Then, if I need the notes, I go back to my calendar, find what month I was meeting on the topic I need notes for, and pull out the file to get the notes. The method is quick, efficient, and there are no more piles of paper lying around my desk.


These are three simple methods, but they have been incredibly helpful to me.  When my email fills up, when I lose notes, or when tasks go undone, I can feel my energy draining out of me.  These simply practices free up a lot of time, and they keep the energy drain from happening. They may not work for you, but they have really worked for me.

So what do you do?  If you’ve got a strategy that works for you, please share it. Don’t be a hoarder!  We want to know. Thanks to my new techniques, I’ll also probably have to time to try them out.



Mickey Hay's Comments on Level 3 Listening

The Experience of Level III Listening


We’ve all had experience of Level I listening.  A lot of the conversations we have at work are indicative of Level I listening and this is entirely appropriate.  At this level, we may be engaged in hearing what the other person is saying, but our thoughts are self-focused.  For example, you may have a certain agenda in the conversation and you’re trying to get information.  As the other person answers your questions and makes additional comments, you’re extracting only the information that is useful for your own purposes.  In other words, you evaluate everything you hear in terms of “what’s in this for me to use?”  You may not hear everything that is said because you’re only focused on what you need to know.

Level II listening puts the focus more firmly on the other person.  Often we listen at this level when we’re trying to do some problem-solving with the other person.  At level II, your awareness is heightened.  You want to make sure you fully understand what the other person is trying to say, and to do that, you attend to non-verbal cues.  You may feel a lot of empathy, so that if the person tears up, you find your own eyes becoming moist.  If the person is sharing some upsetting information, you may feel outrage for them.  You mirror the person back to them and feel very much as though the two of you are connected through the conversation.  You’re very aware of yourself, however, and while you still have your own agenda, it’s a shared agenda with the other person.  And you’re mindful of your responses so as to be as helpful, understanding, and creative-thinking as possible.

Level III is a very different experience.  I’ve not only experienced it during some of my most memorable coaching sessions, I’ve heard it described by others who engaged in this deep level of communication.  Perhaps the best way for me to describe Level III listening is to share comments I’ve heard in which it was apparent that the listener was in a state of true communion with the speaker.

 “I found myself speaking words I hadn’t thought about before they left my mouth.  And what I said seemed to be the exact thing he needed to hear.”

“It was as if someone else was speaking through me.  I knew that my job was to stay open to what the person was telling me but also to what I was supposed to tell her in response.” 

“Some of the things I said in response to him were so insightful and brilliant!  I hadn’t realized that I had those thoughts before I articulated them.” 

Level III listening opens channels between you and your mentee that allows for an inner or greater intelligence to shine through.  It’s almost as though there’s a third person in the conversation—someone who knows what the person needs to hear and can articulate it in such a way that the message provides insight.  When you’re engaged in Level III listening, you don’t think or worry about what to say.  And if nothing comes to mind for you to say, you’re perfectly comfortable being silent until something does.  You may hold a question in your mind as you wait for something to occur to you to say—something like “What does the person need to hear from me?”  After the conversation is over, you feel remarkably refreshed and satisfied, knowing that you were 100% present to the person and therefore the most effective you could have been.  Your mentee continues to garner greater insight from your comments well after the session is over. 

Level III listening is most appropriate in a mentoring relationship.  It provides you and your mentee with an opportunity that most conversations you conduct at work do not—an opportunity to give yourself over to another person’s agenda with the knowledge that you are just the right person to do so.  It is truly the most rewarding aspect of mentoring, and one that you will want to experience with everyone you mentor.


My trip to common ground

The act of finding common ground, I've decided, is a bit like trying to create a venn diagram.  I'm one circle. You're another circle, and the challenge is to find out where we overlap.

I've spend the last week traveling back and forth across Arkansas, meeting with coaches all over the state.  I've driven, I figure over 700 miles,  seen a lot of the state, and met many wonderful people. Travel like this, it turns out, is a great opportunity to try out finding common ground. I want to share three experiences I've had this week as I've tried to create venn diagrams for myself and others.

Experience #1. I stayed over night in a wonderful bed and breakfast the Edwardian Inn in Helena. Over breakfast, before I headed to the workshop site, kind of sleepy and lost in my coffee, eggs, and internet, I suddenly remembered our common ground challenge. I decided to search for some common ground with the host of the inn, and I asked him about the BB King poster he had posted in a corner of the hotel.  That simple question led to a lively conversation about the musical history of Helena.  It turns out that the town has an incredible history. The famous King Biscuit Flower Hour radio show had its start in Helena. The awesome Levon Helm, from the The Band, grew up in Helena.  And the "crossroads"made famous by Robert Johnson were only about 30 miles from Helena in Clarksdale, Mississippi.  These are just some of the things I heard. There were other stories about Conway Twitty and Bessie Smith, and the Helena Blues Festival.  I loved the conversation, and I now have a much deeper appreciation of Helena, and I feel I got to know a really nice fellow.  If you go to the Edwardian Inn, be sure to say hi for me.

Experience # 2. Driving from Little Rock to Fort Smith, I stopped at a gas station off the road.  The two people running the station seemed to be just putting in time. I noticed, however, that they had accents that sounded a bit like they were from India, and it turned out I was right. I shared that I had just been there, and we had a great, lively conversation about the food, the scent, the traffic, and the sense of harmony I felt was central to the Indian way of life.  In a flash, it felt like we were friends. I felt a real connection with them, and we all had fun.  Finding common ground was joyous; it brought me closer to two nice people, and when we found that common ground we were all happier and more energized. I really believe this is our natural state--happy, connected, and enjoying each other's company. Our communication challenge is all about getting us back to that state.

Experience # 3.  I put a post on twitter from a hotel in Magnolia, the first night of my trip. The comment linked to a video that recorded a lot of racist statements by a certain group. Someone wrote back within minutes to say she didn't see any racism. Well this was a time when I wanted to be respectful, but I also knew I had to say we were different.  I wrote back, as nicely as I could, that if she didn't see racism there, she really needed to do some thinking.  Finding common ground, then, has its limits. What I learned in experience # 3 is that when we find the overlapping part of our circle, there is still a lot that doesn't overlap. That difference means we see things differently, and sometimes we also need to share our different perspectives. We should never back away from speaking the truth.  The thing is, if we find common ground, there is a better chance that others will hear us.

What have you learned this week?  We'd love to hear.