Kristy: Hi Joe, thanks so much for doing this interview.
Joe: I’m ready to be penetrated.
Kristy: Ha! We try for deep penetration here on the Sexy Grammarian blog! So tell us a little bit about the many ways that you are a communication expert.
Joe: I am originally from New York and lived for seventeen years in Amsterdam. Now I’m in California. My background is in classical acting with a focus on communication skills. You could say that all the work I’ve done has something to do with communication.
Kristy: So you’ve been on stage in New York and Amsterdam? You can act and communicate in multiple languages!And you are the creator of a communications system, Respectful Confrontation, and you teach its principles and practice in workshops, right?
Joe: Yes, I developed this system and teach workshops, give lectures. I’m also finishing my book on the subject.
Kristy: What is Respectful Confrontation?
Joe: It is system, a practice that helps one develop a more empowered way of being with oneself and engaging with others. We all have different languages, different cultures, religions, and beliefs. The bottom line is that we can all find a common way to communicate. I found that if I wanted my work to be successful, I had to find a way to engage others from a deeper place and not just rely on words. This got me to explore and develop the foundations of Respectful Confrontation. It helps to cut through a lot of the false ideas and fears about power, being assertive, and dealing with difficult issues in a way that is openhearted and results in respect and collaboration.
Kristy: You have some workshop events coming up. Readers can find out more and sign up for Respectful Confrontation workshops here. I strongly recommend these workshops, and I’ve had the privilege of getting one-on-one coaching from you, where I got to learn about this practice and how it can improve my own communication.
Joe: Yeah, it is a fun and dynamic way to learn more about yourself, about communication, and how to empower your relationships and life purpose in a compassionate way.In order to be an effective communicator, to use communication to have a positive impact in the world, it is important to understand the ins and outs and intricacies of communication.
Kristy: It definitely was fun and challenging for me. In one session, you used a iceberg metaphor to explain a dynamic in conversation. Can you explain this metaphor to me again?
Joe: If the words we used were enough to communicate successfully, the world would be a better place, right? We would engage like computers, very efficient, task oriented, but human beings aren’t built that way.
Kristy: We are much deeper and more complex
Joe: Right. Thankfully! We may state a very clear message, like, “Can you make me a cup of tea?” But somehow the other has a reaction that doesn’t seem congruous to the request. What is that? If the problem doesn’t lie in the words, then where?
Kristy: The question, “Can you make me a cup of tea?” is just words—it’s the top part of the iceberg, the part we can see.
Joe: As you know, when you see an iceberg, you only see the top most superficial 10% of that iceberg above the surface of the water. The other 90% under the surface is the part you should be alert and concerned about! This is the same with human communication.
Kristy: So you ask me for a cup of tea, and I respond in a way that seems incongruous—like maybe I throw a teacup at you
Joe: Throwing a teacup communicates a very clear message. It may get messy, but that throwing of the teacup may be the very thing we have been waiting for to open up an important conversation about our relationship! That is Respectful Confrontation,
Kristy: So what’s the 90% of what’s going on?
Joe: The 90% is all the unseen parts of the communication, the submerged. And that includes all the factors and circumstances that make up each of the individuals involved. So with every communication you have, your words are the most superficial 10%, and with the words there’s a whole landscape of things that also influence that interaction. Let’s go down from close to the surface to deeper. Now we can get into some deep penetration.
Joe: Fun! It starts with body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, physical environment, and physical state of being. For instance, if someone is hungry, that might make her edgy and definitely influence how she interacts.
Kristy: These are all parts of a dialogue that, in theater, the actors get to play with—and the set designers and the costume people.
Joe: Yeah, this is what is so intriguing about playwrighting! As a playwright, I have to see the whole picture in my head, but I can only communicate the whole picture with the dialogue. I have to get all of it through the words, with imagery, musicality of language, and mood.
Kristy: And in any kind of writing, if we’re writing dialogue, the words we write are only 10% of what’s going on. There are the faces our characters might make, the clothes they are wearing, and the back story we’ve created for those characters. All of that is present, submerged under the dialogue.
Joe: In theater, it is the actor’s job to take this “coded” dialogue and decipher 100% of the experience.
Kristy: The prose writer might be able to uncover some of the other 90% in narration, but we still have to trust the reader to gather much of it.
Joe: The prose writer gets to explain some of the 90% in the text in a way that the playwright doesn’t, and yes, it is up to the writer to make sure the correct message gets communicated, as in Respectful Confrontation. I’ve always said that acting is the science of human behavior. The more a writer understands the depths of human behavior and interaction, what makes people tick, the richer the writing will be.
Kristy: Let’s go deeper with dialogue. What else, in your work with Respectful Confrontation, might be going on in the dialogue?
Joe: Well going deeper, what we always bring to every interaction is relationship, power dynamics, power status, past history, and mood. That’s the next layer of things that get in the way of clear communication or enliven and enrich our interactions.
Kristy: I think these deeper levels are the most interesting because they are harder to see in real life and perhaps harder for the writer or actor to communicate in narration or with gesture.
Joe: Yes, and that’s why we need writers and artists. To illuminate our human condition! To bring to light what is hidden. To teach, celebrate, and inform.
Kristy: So to create dialogue that’s true to life, the writer needs to consider things like the relationship between the speakers and power dynamics.
Joe: Of course! They are influencing the interaction. To create believable characters and relationships you have to go into the specifics, otherwise they won’t seem credible or they’ll be too general. What makes each character and each relationship unique? This should be an important question for a writer, right?
Kristy: And it keeps going deeper?
Joe: Yes: emotions, feelings, personal philosophy, beliefs, prejudices, judgments, culture, race, customs, religion, education, and love. And the deepest: fear, wounds, needs, desire, longing, traumas, and insecurities. I think the link is what I just said about writing. Respectful Confrontation is a way to empower the self and the other and glorify the richness of human experience. When we can understand that we are, each one of us, unique, and that we all require the time to connect with, the world will be better.
It’s Dialogue Month on The Sexy Grammarian’s Blog! This week’s posts include dialogues between the The Sexy Grammarian and my dad, my coach, and an almost-self-described grammar bottom. Subscribe now to follow the conversation.
In addition to being my communication coach, Joe Weston is the founder of Heartwalker Studio, the creator of Respectful Confrontation, and a columnist for RealJock.com. You can still sign up last-minute for his Respectful Confrontation Workshop this weekend, August 29, in Oakland or plan ahead now for the weekend workshop, October 1-3.