Three different kinds of conversations to be in:
1. Conversations for Relationship
The foundation for everything.
Doing what it takes to build lasting foundations for possibility and for action together. Discovering what you share.
Shared interests make it possible to continue talking, and it’s where most people start. The ubiquitous ‘What do you do?’ when we meet people is an attempt to begin this.
Shared concerns deepen the relationship. When we find out that what matters to others matters to us also, all kinds of possibilities start to emerge. And a longer conversation becomes interesting.
Shared commitments deepen still further. If you and I are up to something active in the world that we both really care about, the possibility of collaborating over extended periods of time comes into view.
2. Conversations for Possibility
Where we wonder together what we might get up to. This is what’s being addressed when people get into brainstorming sessions or just start musing about what could happen.
Conversations for possibility sound easy and obvious, but if you approach them from a cynical position (‘nothing can ever work out’) or pretend to be interested when you’re not, you’ll find that very little that matters comes from them.
3. Conversations for Action
Where we decide what to do, and commit to one another in a way that makes action obvious and possible. It’s the moment of commitment where everything happens – where the future we’re embarked upon changes for all of us involved.
Much of the difficulty that arises in working with other people comes from our not paying attention to the differences between these three conversations and our failure to recognise that each requires the other.
To discover meaningful possibilities, you have to have genuine relationship in which you and others are dedicated to the same interests, concerns or commitments.
To design effective, worthwhile action you have to have chosen which of the many possibilities you are committing to follow.
No end of trouble is caused because people fake this.
We say of our colleagues at work “we’re a team” and then wonder why we’re having such a hard time getting in to projects that feel worthwhile. Did we spend any time in an effective conversation for relationship? Do we even have a relationship in which we care about the same things?
We throw ourselves into action plans but don’t stop first to have a conversation for possibilities. “I’m too busy”, we say. “Can’t you see how much I have to do?”. We make it look like we know what we’re up to, but what we’re doing is pointed in the wrong direction, or maybe we’re all pointing in different directions. We never took the time to stop, to admit our confusion, to ask together where are going or find out together what we might get up to.
Faking these conversations is understandable. We’re taught to fake when we’re very young (faking our interest in subjects at school, doing just what we’re asked by adults without questioning or pushing back). And then mostly we’re taught this again when we join the world of work (saying yes to what we’re asked, unquestioningly taking on the targets and goals we’re given in order to get ahead).
But the more we fake, and the more we fail to attend to the basic conversations that make everything worthwhile and possible, the more difficulty and suffering we’re creating for ourselves and others.
So the first step is to get real.
Which conversation have you not had, yet? Name it. Invite, enroll, cajole, demand that the people around you stop, long enough, to do the talking together that was missing.
Talk and listen long enough to build a relationship that can be the foundation for the possibilities you’re pursuing and the action you want to take. It’s never too late to do this, even if you completely skipped it the first time around.
Own up to your confusion and your deflation as well as the times when you’re excited and bursting with energy. If you’re confused about where you’re going, other people probably are too. It’s a conversation for possibility you might need to have here.
By paying attention to all of this and talking about it with others, you’ll begin to address your stuckness, your overwhelming busyness, and the endless waste of people doing things that didn’t need doing or that didn’t matter.
And that has to be worth doing.
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