Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Conversations vs Road Traffic

After spending a lot of time thinking about the complexities and intricacies of social enterprise, helping teams use sophisticated platforms for collaboration and community building and the like, one tends to forget about the most basic of things - Conversations. Plain and simple.

How many of us are actually good at having conversations? Are they as simple as they seem to be? What happens when our conversations are not clear, focused, adaptive and result-oriented? What is the difference between written conversations vs spoken? How many of our conversations lead somewhere? How many of them bring up optimal solutions to challenges? How many of us walk away from conversations with the satisfaction of having learned something or accomplished something?

Here are some things that came to my mind in the form of a metaphor (favorite thinking tool). Road Traffic vs Conversations! ;-) I am just going to touch upon the different dimensions without putting too many things in here.

1. Pace - Speed of thought and speech. How do we manage having conversations with people who think faster or slower? How do we manage having conversations with people who also talk faster or slower? (Think about how you deal with drivers who overtake you or prevent you from speeding ;-))

2. Direction - What are we expecting from the conversation? Where do we want to go? What shortcuts are we willing to take? What rules are we ready to break? (Think about what you would do to get to your destination based on the traffic. Change roads? Break rules? Take a U-turn and go back home? ;-))

3. Vehicle - What is the context that the other person is in? How does it impact her thinking? What would she be able to understand or relate to based on the context she is in? How can you understand that context as well as communicate your own and arrive at a mutual understanding? (Do you what it feels like to drive a small electric vehicle if you are in a BMW or vice versa? ;-))

4. Left-Hand Drive vs Right-Hand Drive - What are the principles and rules that the person operates from? How well does it match with your own? What are the glaring differences and how does it impact the outcome of the conversation? (How easy is it to drive a car with the steering wheel on the right hand side in a country that mandates you have to be on the right hand side of the road or face its wrath?)

5. Self-Driven vs Chauffeur-Driven - Do we have our own goals and thoughts that we chase or are we more focused on goals and ambitions related to the collective or bigger entity (team/organization)? How do we balance the two whilst having our conversations and what do we look for? What is the other person looking for? (Do you sit back and relax while someone else drives the car for you while at the same time looking out for challenges and things that will have an impact on you? Do you drive the car yourself and decide which route to take and what not to do?)

6. Diversions - How good are we at handling diversions in the topic and finding a new route back to our destination or how do we enjoy the new route and let serendipity take over? (Do you curse and swear when you need to take a sudden diversion in your regular route or does it have almost zero impact on you because you have the time and the space to experience something new?)

7. Honkers - How do you handle disturbances and interruptions in the conversation? Do you honk (threaten) your way through or do you patiently wait for things to be sorted out or do you yourself tackle the disturbance head to head? (Is honking at the risk of annoying everyone else on the road a good approach to resolving the disturbance. Does it lead to accidents?)

So, what do you think? :-)

PS: Input from a reader: What about Traffic Cops and Signals? - Moderated conversations!?

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