It’s March. I’m in Barcelona. March is a good time to be in Barcelona. It’s raining in Amsterdam, but not here. It’s almost 9.30 in the morning and the sun is strong and warm. I wonder if there’s a bad time to be in Barcelona? Probably not.
But before reading any further, please turn on the soundtrack for this article
I’m guessing you know this scene: Two old men sitting on a bench, just talking. In this particular scene the men are sitting in the shade of a palm tree on one of the ancient squares in the centre of the city. I walk past. I’m in a hurry, late for an appointment. When I return, hours later, the two men are still there. I pause.
What is it about this scene that I find so appealing? Is it the time they seem to have, the suggestion of inner peace, or the apparent lack of something better to do?
Something better to do… what can be better than sitting with a friend and having a good conversation. When is the last time I sat down with a good friend and had a lengthy conversation like that? I struggle to remember. It’s been too long.
A real conversation is a beautiful thing, a meeting of the minds, an exchange of thoughts and feelings. It needs giving and taking, listening and sharing, learning and building on each other’s ideas. This is when we are truly at our best. It needs us to be really interested in someone else. To have respect for someone. To be empathetic.
The two men stand up and slowly walk away. Still talking.
And I realize that in my work as facilitator and coach a lot of what I do is focused on creating time and space for people to have real conversations. To share, listen and understand what is relevant and real value for people. The tools, methodologies, the environment, it is really all about the conversation, with our customers, stakeholders, colleagues.
And we so desperately need this skill in our organizations. What is an organization but a community, a network of people working together? How can we not take the time to pay attention to each other’s ideas, wants and needs? That is, if we want to create an environment where people collaborate well, share a common purpose and even are, dare I say it, happy in their jobs? These are not bad things for organizations struggling with innovation & retention. They might even be essential.
But do we need special skills to have a conversation? It seems like it. A conversation is not just talking, story telling, debating or discussing and it certainly bares no resemblance to the shouting and bullying we so often see, and almost seem to accept, on social media.
When do we learn to have these conversation skills? Who teaches us? Is it cultural? Do we learn it at school? Do we pass it on from one generation to another?
All of the above?
I am blessed with two young children and if there is one thing I want to teach my children it is the ability of having a real conversation.
It will help them in their relationships, friendships, and search for happiness. It will keep their minds open to see new perspectives.
And when I’m an old man I hope to sit on that bench with a friend. But now I need to catch a taxi to rush me to the airport.
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