About 10 years ago I read a book, Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott, that fundamentally changed a lot of things in my life my marriage, my friendships, my career but mostly it changed who and how I was being in the world. Actually, it was really just one awareness I got from the book that had that effect on me and my life. So what was this insight that was so powerful? The premise is quite simple and yet very profound, at least to me; namely, that every relationship in your life is based on one thing….a conversation. Hmmm. If you think about it (and I hadn’t), how could it be any other way? Absence a conversation, there is no way I can have a relationship with anyone be it a friend, a family member, a client or a love interest at least not one that would have any depth or meaning. If you accept this premise on face value, then it’s safe to say that who and how you show up being inside your conversations will determine the quality of your relationships in your life.
What I mean by that is, do you keep the conversation safe and on the surface or are you willing to be open, vulnerable and go deep? Are you thinking about what you’re going to say long before the person finishes their thought or do you actively listen with interest and curiosity? Are you distracted or preoccupied when you’re talking with someone or are you in this moment, really present and engaged?
These are ways of being inside a conversation that will greatly determine the relationships we create in our life. And when I say create, I mean create. Because, in my experience, every relationship is a creation. Relationships aren’t something you find, or have, you create them, one conversation at a time. Before I read the book I don’t remember giving a whole lot of thought to who and how I was being in a conversation. I just had them, one after another and how they went is how they went.
I wasn’t all that focused on the experience other people were having with me in the conversation. It was all about me, about me being heard, about me being understood and a lot of times it was about me being right. The book jolted me into looking at who and how I was being and after a quick examination I didn’t like what I was seeing. I wanted to be heard and understood so bad I rarely took the time to get where the other person was coming from. I was afraid of looking weak and so I kept it a notch below the surface with all but a few people, unwilling to be open and vulnerable. And being present, holy shit, I was a disaster. I was anything but present, especially with the people I loved the most, my children and my wife. That was not OK.
And so I began a long journey of intentionally showing up differently inside of every conversation I had no matter who it was with. And I started to notice something. My relationships were improving, slowly, incrementally but definitely improving with my clients, my friends but most importantly with my wife and kids. I also began to notice that people started wanting to talk longer and more often. It even seemed that some of those conversations resulted in subtle or not so subtle positive shifts for others and myself. As a result of those shifts I began to see something that I had never seen before. It’s an awareness so simple but powerful that I am asking you to consider it in your own life (if you haven’t already done so).
Mainly that every conversation…..that you will ever have…. is an opportunity to change a life; either someone else’s or your own.
And when I say every conversation, I mean every conversation. Because, unless you possess some amazing power of prescience, you simply don’t know what result a particular conversation can bring to your life; be it a new client, a new friendship, a new opportunity or a new relationship. But in order to change a life, there is one element that is essential to that process slowing down into this moment with another human being. Absent that, there’s no way to change a life inside of a conversation. Because, if you aren’t present, then you can’t possibly give the other person the experience of being heard and understood. And as far as I can tell, being heard and understood is the most powerful drug on the planet, certainly way more powerful than anything you can buy at the local dispensary. And yet, it occurs to me that many of us, including me, are often times so sped up trying to get “there”, that we rarely slow down into the here and now with another person such that we have a meaningful connection. In many ways, a lot of us have one drive by conversation after the next, one day after the next, rarely being present enough to really hear and understand someone. As a result, we feel disconnected and maybe even exhausted because it is exhausting to be so busy that we fail to connect with another person or more importantly ourselves.
Is that you? When was the last time you were in a conversation in which you really heard someone? What happened? How did it make you feel? How did it make them feel? Who would you need to be to give someone the experience of being heard and understood?
As great as being heard and understood feels to many of us, there is another type of conversation that can change the course of your life every time you have one. Transcending being heard and understood is a conversation in which you feel “gotten”. Being gotten is simply magical, it’s a total game changer and all too rare for most people walking the planet. If you look back on all the thousands of conversations you’ve ever had, you can probably count the number of “gotten” conversations by using all your fingers and toes, they are that uncommon for most of us. Some of you might be saying, what is a “gotten” conversation. Simply put, being gotten is when you feel the other person gets you, the essence of you, the vulnerable and real you, the whole you. It’s when someone hears you in a way that you swear they have seen your soul. That’s a gotten conversation. If you have a wedding ring on your finger then you certainly would have been gotten at least once in your life. Otherwise, it’s very unlikely you would have been willing to commit yourself to another human being in such a profound way.
When was the last time you felt gotten? When was the last time you gave someone the experience of being gotten? What happened?
Being present inside a conversation can be so challenging. It certainly is for me. There are so many distractions that keep most of us from slowing down in this moment with another human being. And yet, there is no special talent required to give someone an experience of being heard or understood or perhaps even gotten. All that’s required is a willingness to be right here, right now with the only person you can ever do that with, the one that’s in front of you in this moment.
In my experience, if you were willing to do this, slow down, even just 5%10% more in your life, the quality of your relationships would improve over night. As a result, the quality of your life would also improve.
That sounds like an experiment worth trying.
Would you be willing to give it a go for a day, a week or a month?