Timely Conversations

By Chris Chittenden

Last month, we discussed the idea that we use language to create boundaries and those boundaries generate separation. This month, we would like to continue the theme of boundaries and look at how we apply this to our sense of everyday living.

As we have said in previous newsletters, human beings live in language and usually do not see that we do this. One of the key aspects of our use of language is that through it we generate a keen sense of time. Indeed even though we can easily see that we always live in the moment or the “now”, we struggle to actually define what “now” is. Life can be said to be a continual experience of “now”, yet we have a clear sense of the past and the future and as such we are constantly crossing boundaries between the past, the present and the future.

You may recall that we define three types of conversation – descriptive, speculative and action. Descriptive conversations relate to what we already perceive to exist. In other words, they relate to the past. On the other hand, speculative and action conversations relate to what might exist or might be done. In other words, these two types of conversation relate to the future. Given that we create a boundary between the past and the future, it is often a significant challenge to move from descriptive to speculative and action conversations on a given issue.

Our observation is that people in general spend by far the largest amount of their time in descriptive conversations. The value of descriptive conversations lies in being able to orient ourselves to the world as we perceive it and ultimately create a context for our decisions and actions in the future. As we are social beings, this usually involves creating a shared context with others. Hence it follows that people spend most of their time in a past conversational context. The value of speculative and action conversations lies in the way in which our future will unfold. None of these types of conversation are more important than the others, but as we have seen boundaries create a sense of resistance to be overcome. As we spend more time caught in descriptive conversations about the past moving to conversations about the future can often be a significant challenge.

Since the basis of coaching, leadership and any act of influencing is future focused, this challenge shows up as critical. Very often, people will want to hang onto what they perceive they already have and will not want change. It is useful to understand that the key here does not lie just in a wonderful vision of the future and the possibilities it represents or some brilliant logic about why and how this can be achieved, it must also include a shared context of what is. The greater this sharing, the more likely there is to be less resistance to a different future.

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© 2006 Chris Chittenden