Behold the power of story

Chinese baby

Just for clarity: I have never been a Chinese woman. Except for a few minutes this morning.

Just 15 minutes ago or so, I was listening to NPR on the radio as I was driving in to work. They were interviewing Jenna Cook about her search for her birth mother. Like most of you, I have been aware for a long time that international adoptions are not uncommon, and even that the situations that lead to such adoption are quite complex. But I had never been touched by those complexities. Continue reading “Behold the power of story”

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Communication lessons from my daughter

Road Closed Detour sign

I’ve mentioned my special needs daughter here before. I don’t talk about her here a lot, although in many ways she is the center of my life, because the focus of this blog is on communication skills. But every once in awhile these major areas of my life intersect. Today is one of them. Here are some things Hannah is reminding me of today.
Continue reading “Communication lessons from my daughter”

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Write whether you feel like it or not

Broken Pencil

There is some standard advice you hear offered to writers of every type and sort. “Don’t write unless you have to,” or “If you can not write, don’t.” The idea seems to be that writing is so hard that you shouldn’t do it unless you feel a compulsion to do so, or else that unless you feel that sort of compulsion, you will never achieve any level of skill.

Rubbish. Continue reading “Write whether you feel like it or not”

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Know the different kinds of knowing

Nasty plumbing

Our son just got a practical lesson in economics as well as in education.

He replaced the inflow part of his toilet. It’s not rocket science, but it takes abilities that fall within the scope of all three types of knowing.

Some years ago I had the privilege of hearing Dr. John Shotter talk about the nature of dialogue. I will not try to explain what I heard. In the first place, it nearly made my head explode. In the second place, I’m not at all sure I understood it–not that he couldn’t explain it clearly. It’s just somewhat like my dog trying to understand my explanation of symbolism in Shakespeare.

But I think I properly understood a useful classification of three types of knowing. (Disclaimer: this is my understanding of it, and may not be what Dr. Shotter intended.) There is “knowing that” (basically, knowing facts and information), “knowing how” (knowing a skillset), and “knowing from within” (knowing the norms from within a culture as well as what we might call “gut level” knowing).

The economics lesson can be summed up like this: when you are able or willing to do what other people are either unable or unwilling to do, you can make a living.

Plumbers can charge what they do because to some degree they know things other people don’t. It goes beyond mere information–after all, the Internet has revealed all, at least as far as basic facts are concerned (the first kind of knowing). And the Internet has even revealed much (if not all) of the second type of knowing–the process for completing basic plumbing tasks such as replace an inflow valve. (My son had no problem finding YouTube videos to show him “how.”) But the third type of knowing usually only comes with experience. In this case, although he has never changed that particular fixture before, he has done enough work with pipes to have a proper “feel” for how things should go together, how tight the connection should be, etc.

But plumbers can also charge what they do because to some degree they are willing to do what other people aren’t. You can’t pay me enough money, for instance, to get me to crawl underneath my house. If there is plumbing to be done under there, it is worth it to me to pay someone who knows what they’re doing, and is willing to do it.

In this case, the economic lesson involved the number of times he said, “Yuck!” I’m grateful he was willing to do it–it saved a bill from the plumber. But if that simple task involved that degree of “yuck,” it’s easy to see there will come a time when he might have the knowledge to complete some plumbing task, but not the willingness.

And if he develops that willingness, then he could have a lucrative profession in his future.

What about you? What parts of your job involve which types of knowing? What parts involve a simple willingness to do the hard parts? Isn’t that what continues to keep writers and speakers paid in this age of easy communication? When anyone can publish pretty much anything for free, isn’t that what keeps people buying magazines, books, and subscriptions?

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Stories: the low-tech mind meld


If you think about your own experience, I think you can see how a good story deserves the metaphorical label of “mind meld.” I remember being enthralled as I listened to Appalachian storytellers at the Museum of Appalachia’s Fall Homecoming, as I read my first novel that a teacher didn’t assign (it was Have Space Suit – Will Travel by Robert A. Heinlein), and as I watched 2001: A Space Odyssey. You know that power on the receiving end, and (I hope) have experienced it on the other end.

Continue reading “Stories: the low-tech mind meld”

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Floss one tooth bird by bird

Bird with teeth

There is a much-beloved-among-writers book by Anne Lamott called Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. It covers many of the challenges writers (and speakers) face, but the title is one of the most important parts to me. It reminds me of how to manage huge projects, like a novel. Continue reading “Floss one tooth bird by bird”

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New ebooks on Amazon

ebook covers
Two new ebooks from Yours Truly.

We’ve recently posted a couple of ebooks that, for the time being, are free on Amazon. They will revert to regular price in a few days, though. Grab them while you can, and tell interested friends! Continue reading “New ebooks on Amazon”

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Seeing what is rather than what you think


One of the most overlooked aspects of communication is the communication you have with yourself.

Two incidents in the last week have me thinking about this. Continue reading “Seeing what is rather than what you think”

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The most overlooked prep time for speakers

Looooong experience

Austrian journalist Karl Kraus once famously defined a journalist as someone who has nothing to say but knows how to say it. Journalism students have a tendency to fill a college career with nothing but journalism courses, which can lead to exactly the situation Kraus described. That’s why schools accredited by the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication require students to take no more than a certain number of hours in journalism courses–they need to have something to write about when they graduate.

Speakers have related challenges, in that hardly anyone speaks simply to speak. You must have something to speak about. Continue reading “The most overlooked prep time for speakers”

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