The Power of Live: Controlling the Duration of a Conversation

Steve Prentice - Bonsai Tree

A bonsai tree is an example of an organic entity constrained by hard edges.

There are many times when text or email is insufficient. The dynamics of human creativity are not one-dimensional. Thoughts and ideas must be echoed, bounced off one another so that we may experience and interpret the patterns that reverberate around us. Think, for example, how much more productive it is to “talk it out” with someone, than merely texting back and forth or keeping feelings bottled up inside. Creative thought thrives on interference patterns that happen when two creative forces intersect, but it falls away when given only a unidirectional track upon which to work.

This is why I am a strong proponent of live conversation for situations where there is something that needs to be created, agreed upon, resolved or worked through. There is no true substitute for live, multi-sensory communication.

The problem, though, in getting together, face-to-face, or over the phone, the thing that often puts people off, is the fear of getting trapped in a conversation; of things drifting off into small talk and time wastage. But it need not be that way, if you apply what I call The Law of Sharp Edges, which states that if you give someone a clear delineation – a guideline as to where things start and end, instead of just a vague idea, they will be more likely to accommodate your request or behave as you would like them to.

Thus the best way to ensure the success of a conversation is to start with a delineation: “this event shall only last ten minutes” This can be done both easily and with a degree of subtlety by stating at the outset, “I just need four minutes of your time.” It can be done over the phone or face-to-face, even as a precursor voicemail to set up the actual conversation, and what it does is to assure both participants that this event is both finite and controllable.

A three-part overture would go like this: “I just need four minutes of your time” – this is the duration statement. Add to this and agenda as in, “I just need four minutes of your time to discuss the ABC project.” Finally add the permission statement: “I just need four minutes of your time to discuss the ABC project. Is now a good time?”

A bonsai tree is a good example of this. It is an organic being whose growth has been constrained by a hard-edged box.

The trick is to remain consciously aware of your capacity to influence by drawing sharp edges around an organic relationship (a conversation). This will maximize your mutual creativity and make best use of your time.

Steve Prentice is a speaker, author and Partner at The Bristall Group. He works at the crossroads where busy working people intersect with technology. Follow him on Twitter @stevenprentice or visit steveprentice.com (speeches) or bristall.com (training + coaching).

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