By Dr Charles Margerison
How do people develop happiness in their lives?
How can you build on your strengths and make the most of your abilities?
How do you develop resilience to confront difficult challenges in your life?
These are all questions that are central to the research and applications in the science of Positive Psychology. It is an area of psychology that is important for everyone, especially teachers and students as well as those in business.
A start point for personal development is through conversations. These are often self-talk conversations when you are thinking. There are also the many conversations you have with others, some of which are informal discussions with friends, and some more formal business meetings.
In my work, studying the lives of over 500 amazing people, I have been fascinated by the way they used conversations as the basis for success. Many of their great ideas came from conversations.
In the amazing people series, there are many exemplars. For example, Florence Nightingale who exemplifies kindness and helping others; Harriet Tubman, a slave who escaped, exemplifies both courage, and the determination to fight for equal rights, despite the fact that she did not have any formal education; Dr Barnardo, found homeless children in the streets of London and developed homes where they could be protected and educated.
These amazing life stories provide an excellent basis for discussion on key character values. The achievements of Dr Marie Curie, who won two Nobel Prizes in Science, and Dr Percy Julian, who made breakthroughs by producing medicines from plants, were done despite major barriers and prejudice that they faced.
The life story of Nelson Mandela, who was a political prisoner for 27 years before becoming the President of South Africa, and used great strength of character in both his survival and leadership.
In particular, it shows students how important it is to discover and develop a career based on an important purpose.
Student conversation skills improve when they have something specific and meaningful to talk about. They can then relate these to character specifics such as courage, perseverance, courage, all of which were exemplified by amazing achievers.
Our task as educators is to help students apply the character factors to their own lives.
Conversation skills are a foundation for learning. This requires students to have the ability to converse about concepts and ideas and convert them into examples and illustrations. The stories of both real people, and fictional characters help in the development of concepts and ideas.
Everyone has challenges in their lives. Those who succeed develop the conversation skills to move from problems to solutions. These skills can be developed through team and group project learning.
I asked students at the Primary level how they could live together in peace if they landed on a deserted island. The students were given a large table, and asked to discuss what they needed. They could then make cardboard models of the buildings and facilities they needed.
What will we eat? Where will we live? What laws should we have? Who will make the laws, and who will decide who is guilty if crimes are committed? What jobs should we have and who decides who should do what and the rate of pay?
These questions generated strong views and opinions on the rights and obligations of citizens. The conversations were fascinating. A major topic was how the society on the deserted island would be organized. Should everyone have a vote? Each week, students discussed these questions and developed their table model, which included a school, a market, a church, a law court and houses.
In the process, students improved their conversation skills. They were able to express themselves both in rational\logical terms, as well as emotional\feeling terms, what they were thinking. In particular, they learned how to convert problems into solutions.
It is this balance between emotion and reason that is so important in Conversology. In the main, we learn how emotional conversation skills start long before we enter school. Our interaction with parents, family and friends involves considerable discussion on likes and dislikes. Our parents will often tell us that we can or cannot do things. Children will often protest, and try to use their conversation skills to change the decision. That is Conversology in action.
Students are taught that, reason in the form of providing evidence for our arguments and wishes, is important. However, they can also learn that excuses are often presented as a form of reason when they don’t want to do something. Therefore, a key part of Conversology is to help students to separate fact from fiction and convert ideas into action.
In short, Conversology is something that we learn every day without actually formally studying it. It is observed as part of our interaction with friends, family and teachers. The dictionary definition says ‘The study of the ways people discuss issues when exchanging information, and influencing others.’
Conversology is a form of self-development. We are reflecting on the conversations that we have in order to discover ways in which we can influence and be influenced.
For some people, Conversology is learning how to gather and assess the facts. For others, Conversology starts with what one believes. It is interesting to listen to conversations, where you have people with different perspectives. Those who follow the facts, will draw conclusions when they feel they know what they are talking about. Those who follow their emotions will speak convincingly, and adopt facts as required to support their views.
Conversology, therefore, is something students can learn. It will help them through their lives in negotiations. It will help them socially by enjoying informal discussions. Most of all, it will help them in using their knowledge in work situations.
Conversation is a vital process of learning with and from others. Sadly, little formal attention is paid to it as it is assumed it is a natural skill. It is a subject that needs to be taught through practical examples.
The lives of amazing people provide an important way of doing that. Students have the opportunity to assess the factors which they felt made a big difference. They can then apply those character factors to their own lives. This will help them to make the link between their own character and their career interests.