Mt. Adams, Washington – photo by Marc Adamus
I received the following note from my friend, Molly, this afternoon:
“Two things this weekend made me think of you and thought you might enjoy…one is this quote:
‘In the new economy conversations are the most important form of work.’
– Alan Webber, Harvard Business Review
The second came in the midst of our hike up on the flanks of Mt. Adams. Alongside the trail there was an old forest service sign that said:
SHORTCUTS CAUSE EROSION
…because as soon as I saw it I thought of your blog. Just loved all the possibilities with that…”
What a gift to have someone so generously toss a few fresh coals into the fire. It’s great material to be sure, but it’s how it fits together that is so gratifying.
If our conversations truly are our “most important form of work” then certainly it must matter whether or not we go all the way. It must matter if we sidestep, avoid or otherwise shortcut the real conversations; the big ones that scare us because they might just involve something dangerously close to the truth.
For me, the “big ones” are usually about unmet needs; experiencing disappointment in people I rely on. It’s never been easy to confront that because, in the catastrophic version going on in my head, they will simply decide to leave me for a relationship that isn’t so much bother. Instead of moving towards it, I think I gain their continued loyalty by refraining when in fact I’m just wheeling truckloads of unspoken resentment into a vast and ever-expanding warehouse!
My good work has been to discover that by stepping into those waters, by sharing what I feel as openly and as quickly as I can, I am actually strengthening the very foundations upon which these essential relationships are built. That’s serious erosion control, folks. Of course, I know Alan Webber was talking about the “New Economy” (the one in which the speed of change is so fast that people feel more vulnerable than ever) and not so much about my marriage and my friendships. Still, I know that if I don’t get those conversations right I don’t stand a chance of having and facilitating the conversations necessary to help my organization make sense of the new world order.
It’s first things first in my book. Get it right at home, and we just might get it right at work. And if we start to get it right at work (one tough conversation at a time) we may find that, once and for all, we can do away with “management,” “performance reviews” and every other antediluvian constraint on authentic dialogue in the workplace.
Sure, I’m idealistic. Considering what’s at stake, is there another way to be?
© 2010 David Berry