Wednesday Mar 28 2007
By Don Arnoudse
I get paid, and quite handsomely, for listening and talking to people. As a Personal and Executive Coach, I’ve engaged daily for the past six years in the most intimate, often surprising, and always intense dialogues with very interesting people who are dealing with high-stakes dilemmas in their professional and personal lives. Part of my process is to intentionally provoke them. Provoke them into thinking in unconventional ways, into getting in touch with deep feelings they’ve been avoiding, and coming to grips with uncomfortable realities they’ve been deferring. And they provoke me, in turn. By surfacing issues they haven’t discussed with anyone (in some cases, not even their spouses). They invite me to dive into the complexities of their situations and help simplify their choices, generate new possibilities and shine a light on their blind spots.
These conversations really keep me on my toes. After a full day of listening and speaking, my mind feels like it just came out of a mental ‘spin class’. My heart, my hands and my ‘gut’ have had a workout too. I cherish having time at the end of the day to just reflect a bit on the extraordinary people in my life and the remarkable interchanges that we shared. I smile as I recall the power of a seemingly simple question to generate a cascade of ever deepening insight. I feel a thrill run down my spine as I remember the powerful and contagious shift of mood from quiet detachment to full enthusiastic engagement of the young man I met with who left the session full of ideas to put into action immediately. I remember him running down the steps from my third floor office without a minute to waste. Wow! Do I ever feel alive!
Here is my provocative question for you.
What if, as we age, we added the tonic of provocative conversation to our various vitamins, supplements, special diets and exercise programs?
I’ve come to believe that one of the surest ways to decline in our ‘second half’ is to play it safe in conversation: spending our time in routine chit chat, going on about the weather, reminiscing about the good old days, or, God forbid, comparing our ailments. Provocative conversations stretch your brain, exercise your listening ‘muscles’ as you strain to catch every nuance of what’s being said, get your heart thumping, and start your palms sweating. Such dialogue generates a mood of gratitude for the deep connections you feel with others. You’ll laugh out loud with the joy of shared ‘mental gymnastics’.
So, accept my challenge. Take more chances in conversation. Starting tomorrow, refuse to settle for another day of predictable ‘chats’. Ask questions, be curious, have a point of view without getting stuck in it. Invite someone to explore and think differently. Be the unforgettable conversation in someone else’s day.
I look forward to running into you!