Beautiful things can happen in the meeting space between two people
Powerful conversations lead to unexpected outcomes
I talk a lot… I get paid for it actually… Specifically, I have conversations… Powerful conversations with my business coaching clients, so I do as much listening, as I do talking.
You may have heard it said that we have two ears and one mouth and that we ought to use them in that ratio.
Obviously, the math’s doesn’t really add up. Unless your conversations involve three people, it’ll lead to a lot of awkward silences (sorry that’s a dad-joke). But the point is valid. Most of us listen for the opportunity to speak next. I sat in a large gathering once and the facilitator announced that there would be no questions, because, she said, the moment we put up our hands to ask questions, we stop listening.
I think our conversations are like that a lot of the time. We look for an opportunity to put our own two-bob’s-worth in and while on the lookout for that, we cease to listen to the other half of the conversation.
Listening Between The Lines
One of the greatest skills we can all learn is listening, deep listening. Listening between the lines as someone once said to me. What is person who is talking really saying; What are they feeling; What is underneath the words they use; What are they looking for from the conversation; How can we take the conversation up a notch?
Not long ago I sat down with a client to do one of my trial business coaching sessions. Both the client and I had more or less decided that at the end of the trial session she would sign a coaching agreement with me and that we would be working together for the next year. At the start of the session, I reminded the client and myself that it was important to be open to whatever the outcome of the conversation might be, no attachments, no agendas. We spent an hour and a half digging and exploring and opening up every box we found and examining the contents. Slowly but surely it became evident for both of us, that engaging in a coaching agreement with me was not what the client needed at this point in her business. A bunch of other things needed to be seen to first.
The Conclusion Comes From The Middle
The conversation was incredibly powerful, we both lost track of time and it felt we reached entirely the right outcome for her. We both felt the conclusion was unavoidable, it simply presented itself in the space between us. Although it was an outcome that was contrary to the interest of my business, I felt right and the client was energised and grateful.
A hero of mine, Graham Long, minister of the Wayside Chapel in Sydney, often tells me that the greatest thing we can do for our fellow human beings is to “meet” them. He refers to a meeting than can sometimes be allowed to occur in the space between two people. Graham says that this is the only space where the holy fire burns. I’m not particularly religious, so I find it difficult to think in terms of holiness, but I do know that the outcome of the conversation with the client above came neither from my brain nor that of the client, it came out of space between us.
The client and I were committed to let the conversation go wherever it wanted to go, neither of us had an agenda other than to have the most powerful conversation we could have, and amazing things happened.
It has taken me many years to learn not to be attached to the outcome of a conversation. As a matter of fact, it continues to be one of the greatest challenges of my life. Whenever I go into any conversation the temptation immediately rises in me to give advice, to help, to fix things, to tell people what I think, how to do life differently, and impress them with my wisdom, experience or cleverness. But every time I give in to those temptations, the conversation goes nowhere.
The Siren Voice of the Smart-arse
From time to time I do catch the siren voice of being the smartarse who’ll fix things. When I do, as I did in the recent trial session with the client, beautiful things happen.
I remember I first started learning about the value of simply being with people when I was a volunteer crisis counsellor for Lifeline in Sydney. Every now and then I experienced that “meeting” that Graham Long told me about later. True “Meeting” would normally only come about at 3 am on the midnight shift, when I could barely keep my eyes open. In those moments, I think I simply forgot to be clever and “useful” and was just there for the caller.
There was a call once that went for nearly 2 hrs, just me and the voice of the caller in the middle of a Sunday night. I don’t know what happened for the caller afterwards, Lifeline calls are anonymous, but for me the call was life changing. We “met” as Graham describes it and something truly special happened for both of us, I have no doubt.
The conversation with the client a few weeks ago, wasn’t life changing in the same way, but it left me glowing deep inside and I know the client felt the same way.
The best conversations in life are that way. We remember them forever, if not for the detail of the conversation, but for the feeling it created between us.
I wish I could force those “meetings” to happen, but I can’t and nobody can, that’s the point of them. The harder we try the less successful we are. In the early days of my coaching journey I used to have a reminder hanging on the wall in front of me that said:
The harder I try to be useful, the less useful I am.
The only way to make true “meetings” happen is to be open to allow them to happen, and that requires us to have no attachment to the outcome of the meeting, to practice deep listening, listening between the lines, and to be in the conversation, nowhere else.
Easier said than done, but I’m learning
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