We’re having a conversation but I’m unintentionally ignoring you…
Before I embarked on a coaching practise, I worked in the corporate world. Following the herd, I was under the illusion that my greatest talent was being planned and prepared for every eventuality. There’s a scene from my favourite film Seven when Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt are just about to escort Kevin Spacey. Morgan tells Brad to be prepared for anything, unsurprised, and expecting of the least likely of events. That was me! I made it my mission to over plan just in case I got caught out.
I spent many hours prior to every meeting, course and call agonising over content. I imagined and prepped for all the things that could and should be said and all the things I would then say back. My words and thoughts were on a schedule and, with the best of intentions, I set the scene for every event (where would I sit, how would the table be set up, how many chairs, what about a drink?). I also directed and starred in my event (well if I said this then this response will surely come back, however don’t jump in too early as you may look like you’re monopolising) and even sat as an audience member and critic. All before a single person entered the room, dialled into a call, or a word had been uttered. Now, I was really good at my job for lots of reasons, however because of the work I now do, I’m more curious and am compelled to take a step back to ask questions that have only just occurred to me.
What is the true nature of a conversation? How do we approach conversations? Do we recognise what is a good conversation and what is a bad one?
As an example, very recently a dear friend was having a tough time. After a bit of back and forth on text messages with her sharing her woes in the hope that by talking about it would make her feel better, it became clear she needed a chat, so we arranged a virtual call. Before the call, I instinctively started to plan the upcoming conversation to make sure I offered her the best possible support. I imagined a set of circumstances and went back and forth about how I would handle them. Without warning, I was hit with what can only be described as a bolt of electricity similar to a mild electric shock. Why was I giving head space to something that hadn’t happened yet? With my mind full of every eventuality, I might as well turn up to the call and ignore what she was saying as I’d already decided the outcome. I’d inadvertently missed the blindingly obvious and simplistic nature of the upcoming exchange in that it would contain two people and all I needed to do was, as promised, show up.
So the next time you have a meeting, a gathering or a conversation, I challenge you to try this approach. Open your mouth and watch as words come out in real time. This may take a bit of trust to begin with but it will happen and will occur to you as you speak. Hopefully whoever you are conversing with will respond with words that you’ll fully hear as you’re not distracted by your thoughts instructing you on what smart stuff to say. Stay curious as the conversation unfolds in that regardless of whether you are planned and prepared, what is being said will naturally unfold in the moment it does, regardless of what you do to the contrary. If you do innocently attempt to intervene in the flow as we all do, planning what to say next and jumping forward or backwards, I offer a sneak peak and observation to my corporate days and how exhausting, draining and stressful I felt for most of the time. Does being prepared rather than present to what unfolds increase your positive input? Does focussing on the planned allow the conversation to flow and offer space for fresh thoughts? Does forward planning trump natural nuggets of brilliance that occur when you least expect? Do you notice the difference?
So with every word that I utter and every thought that I allow to pass by, I’d like to end with an insight of mine that I’m going to attempt to put into words….We all have one life which is being lived through the experiences we are creating, some through conversations and some without us even realising. Those experiences are not planned and prepared, they’re happening right now.
True life is only ever naturally unscripted.