The conversational “ping”

It’s always a tense part of any movie involving submarines. Hidden under the surface, the commander says “one ping only please”; a signal is sent and the tension rises as we wait to see if there’s something out there. (My favourite submarine move remains “Crimson Tide” – a real talking point on leadership styles)

But our conversations are often different, particularly in meetings. We say one thing that often has two parts – the surface message – often bland and safe – and the one under the surface, looking to find out what we really want to know.

The challenge is that we often don’t slow down enough to understand what’s really going on. The surface response comes back quickly – as safe and bland as the one we sent, or sometimes we just go to outright conflict. The sub surface message though, the important one, takes longer. it has to be received, processed, a decision made a response decided, and that response heard.

Under pressure, our conversations are not conversations at all. We transmit in simplex – broadcast only rather than duplex, send and receive. We ping away ever more frantically, getting frustrated because we’re not open to the signals we need. The ones that signal uncertainty, or openess, or a need for help. The ones which, if we’re open to them, transform the conversation.

Great conversations are never, ever efficient. Great conversation take time. They have a life of their own. They are searching for signal amidst the surface noise.

If what you’re going to talk about is important; slow down and listen, reflect and respond. You’ll travel much faster by talking less, listening more, and thinking in between.

One ping at a time please.

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