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Intimate Conversations Cafe: What would you like engraved on your tombstone?

Posted to Gurteen Knowledge-Log by David Gurteen on 28 July 2014



Intimate Conversations Cafe: What would you like engraved on your tombstone?
WeblogGurteen Knowledge Log
Knowledge LetterAppears in the Gurteen Knowledge Letter issue: 169
Posted DateMonday 28 July 2014 15:08 GDT
Posted ByDavid Gurteen
CategoriesKnowledge Cafe
PeopleTheodore Zeldin

Some years ago, I attended one of Theodore Zeldin's Conversation Dinners  in Oxford.

The dinner was quite fascinating - we sat in pairs, our partner had already been selected and as well as the dinner menu we were given a 'conversation menu' by Theodore.

For each course there were several questions about ourselves we could chose to discuss. We were instructed to only talk with our partners.

The questions were intended to help us discover what sort of person we were talking with, their ideas on different aspects of life, such as ambition, curiosity, fear, friendship and the relations of the sexes.

I enjoyed the experience so much that back in November 2005, I held an "Intimate Conversations" Cafe at the Royal Institute of British Architects.

Then on 8th July 2014 (yes that's nearly 9 years later!) I ran another "Intimate Conversations" Cafe at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in London.

During the evening, I paired people off with each other and give them a short list of questions from which they could choose to discuss.

The questions were designed to be open-ended and to give them the opportunity to reveal as much of their inner-selves to each other as they felt comfortable.

Here are three of the questions:
  • What are your earliest memories of your childhood?
  • What brings you greatest happiness when you think back on your life so far?
  • What would you like to be engraved on your tombstone?

I had 20 people - 10 pairs and as I knew from past experience that it is possible to be matched with someone whom you don't quite get on with- I broke the conversation into two 40 minute sessions.

I allowed people to have a 1:1 conversation for about 40 minutes and then told them to switch partners but if they really wished to carry on their conversation and stay with thie current partner they could.

Only 5 pairs (half the people) switched partner. I also let people select their partner - I did not do it for them randomly (that may or may not have been the best way).

We then came back together at the end in a circle for about 30 mins to share our thoughts on the Cafe - almost everyone engaged and was enthusiastic about the event.

What a great way to break down barriers: get people talking about themselves and give permission to go deeper and engage in a way that you would never normally do with a complete stranger.

Credit: Sally Gurteen,Senior Digital Communications Executive

I enjoyed the Intimate Conversations Cafe last night. One of the main things that struck me was how open complete strangers were with me about quite raw events in their life e.g. death when I was open with them. Maybe this is something we can learn from and adapt in a business environment to make them less of a battlefield?

Credit: Sara Culpin,Head of Information & Knowledge

I was later asked by someone who did not attend - whether it was transferable in-house to say use as an ice-breaker at the start of internal conferences or alongside Randomised Coffee Trials which was something I had not considered.

Reflecting on this, and reviewing the questions, I realised that questions like "Describe your perfect partner?" could become "Describe your perfect job?" and "When are you at your best?" could become "When do you do your best work?" So the answer is yes!

If you are interested, get in touch and I can send you the list of questions that I used.

This is a simple and effective way of allowing people to get to know each other better at a deeper level and is no where near as "scary" as it sounds. Although I had one person say that were not coming as they were not prepared to talk quite so intimately with a complete stranger.

Video: Theodore Zeldin discusses the results of the Courage Beer Conversations Survey.

Philosopher and historian Theodore Zeldin discusses the results of the Courage Beer Conversations Survey.

Media Information: Image

If you are interested in Knowledge Management, the Knowledge Café or the role of conversation in organizational life then you my be interested in this online book I am writing on Conversational Leadership
David Gurteen

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