Getting conversation going

Over the next few days, you may have opportunities for conversations with people you don’t see often. While “what are you thankful for” is a traditional question, I’d like to offer some alternatives.

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It was a great conversation starter: “If you were a charitable foundation, what kind of problem would you address?” As we went around the room, I was impressed with what my colleagues suggested. The variety of issues and needs and struggles was thoughtful. (Grief and trauma was my answer, by the way.)

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I listened to parts of several episodes of “How I built this”, a podcast about people who started companies. Guy Raz, the host, asks great questions of the founders, allowing us to learn about challenges and conflicts and processes. As I listened, I realized that the most common question is, “So what did you do?” People talk about how things fell apart, how markets changed, how suppliers fell short. But instead of saying, “What happened,” Guy says, “What did YOU do?” It’s active, not passive. It allows reflection on the next step.

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Marc Pitman shared several tweets from the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference. Quoting someone, he said, Do not ask people to tell you a story. Ask them: who can’t you get off your mind?” It’s a pretty remarkable question for reviewing a year, for thinking about time spent living in a neighborhood.

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At the end of the conversation about being a foundation, our leader said, “If we did all that, the world would be a better place.” I agree. But that makes me want to ask, “While you are waiting for the money, what are three things you could do to start addressing the problem?”

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Because it’s easy to talk about the folly that happens around us, our thinking would be reset with, “What’s the coolest action you’ve seen from a human in the last month?”

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Let me know if you ask anyone these questions. Or perhaps you could answer them here.

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