One of my favorite resources to recommend to clients is a fabulous little book called Conversational Riffs, written by a colleague of mine from the UK, Neil Denny. Neil is a collaborative lawyer (or, solicitor, as he is known in the UK), and has done quite a bit of field study on conflict and communication through his legal practice. The size of a 45-speed record (and filled with great retro- and music- inspired graphics), Conversational Riffs draws on musical metaphors to illuminate the status quo cycles of communication and conflict, and demonstrate how the addition of new responses into the typical cycle can take these conversations & conflict in new directions. Just as an 8-bar blues tune is transformed by an inspired solo or modulation, one can take a repetitive progression rut attack – counter-attack – defense, typical of conflict/communication cycles, somewhere new and unexpected by improvising a new response. By offering to the reader 6 other helpful “riffs” to insert into rut cycles – invitation, encouragement, acknowledgement, agreement, agreeing differences and solutions, Denny gives a menu of improvisational options to choose from, just as a jazz pianist might choose a mode for her solo.
As a musician, I love the parallels between musical and extra-musical dialogue, and when I saw Neil present last year at the International Association of Collaborative Practitioner’s Forum in Washington DC, he brought his guitar, which was great fun. However, you don’t have to have a musical background to appreciate the appropriateness of the musical metaphors in Denny’s book and framework. Indeed, in many ways, the musical parallels make the framework more accessible to anyone who finds the nuances of interpersonal communication challenging to understand. Perhaps most importantly, Conversational Riffs offers to its readers a concise, approachable framework that is easy to implement immediately and effectively. One doesn’t need to (and can’t, generally) change the person with whom one is in conflict but, Denny notes, “[y]ou can influence the shape and direction of the discussion you find yourself in, even if it is in an argument, a debate or a complaint.”
Conversational Riffs is available at lulu.com either by direct download or in fully-printed copy – HERE. It’s worth every penny.