Certain conversations are flagged years in advance. Think, for example, about major life decisions like having children, changing careers or indeed retirement. The same applies in organisational circles around major transformations and cultural shifts.

I find it thus makes sense to take a long-term approach to such conversations. It all starts with thinking ahead.

  • Where might we be in 3-4 years? Longer?
  • What would benefit from being discussed?
  • What is at stake?
  • Who needs to be involved?
  • What information is needed?
  • Do I have a preferred outcome?
  • How might I start the conversation? I.e., what seed might I plant?

Let Me Give You a Personal Example!

When my kids were young, we used to split the academic year between Ireland and Spain (Catalonia to be specific) – half the year in each. My wife is Catalan, and I am Irish, so it allowed the kids to learn about both our cultures and build relationships with our families.

Halfway through their national school journey, I began looking ahead to what secondary school might look like. Life gets a little more serious once state exams are involved, and it was clear that a choice would have to be made. I also knew that emotion would feed into the final decision as much as logic and that more than anything the decision would be the fruit of a long digestion of the options.

My wife and I had countless “calm” conversations over those years as we sought out information and opinions that would help frame the decision. In the end, the decision basically made itself because we had exhausted the conversation. Everything that needed to be said had been said. The emotion had been removed and the facts stood on their own.

Think of conversations as different plants in a garden. Some might require the fertile soil of trust, while others thrive in the challenging climate of debate. Like a patient gardener, understand what each conversation needs to flourish. You can then harvest it when the time comes.

A Conversation Delayed Is a Conversation Denied

Take the case of Maria who worked in a very senior role in her organisation. Over decades she put her life and soul into her job to the detriment of her relationships with herself and with those close to her.

And when the question of “What does retirement look like?” was raised it was clear that retirement didn’t exist in Maria’s world. That was a conversation she wasn’t willing to have. Shortly afterwards she got news that she was effectively being forced into retirement.

Her world imploded because she had been making it too small! Had her work been one part of her world, balanced by ever-deepening relationships and conversations with those around her she may well not have felt so alone, so bereft, so betrayed. Instead, work had filled her world, a world that was now empty.

Maria’s avoidance of the retirement conversation is a poignant reminder of the suffering that can arise from avoidance. What conversations are you avoiding, and what might be the cost of that avoidance?

My Invitation

The invitation is thus to think of conversations like plants. They need to be patiently nurtured and can’t be hurried. It starts with germinating the seed, gently watering and feeding the plant and then letting it grow on its own. Just focus on how you can contribute to the process and let the outcome take care of itself.

Identifying these conversations often begins with tuning into our values, our long-term vision and the relationships that matter most to us.

So, ask yourself:

What conversations might I slowly nurture?
How might I be more patient?

Question in the Image:

  • What conversations do I need to nurture?

Want to Read More Around This Topic?

Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki (link to Amazon.co.uk). This classic text on Zen practice might provide you with insights into the concept of approaching life with a fresh, open, beginner’s mind. The principles in this book may further enrich the idea of nurturing conversations over time, as it emphasizes being open, patient and present.

Nurturing Curiosity – Daily Practice: This is part of the Nurturing Curiosity series of tools, insights and questions designed to help nurture curiosity as part of our daily practice. In point of fact, every interaction we have is an opportunity to question what we are observing and how we and others are seeing the world. Also remember that questions come in many forms throughout our day. “Wu Wei” – the Taoist concept translated by Alan Watts as “not forcing anything” – is asking questions of me these days. My bias over my life has been towards action and yet, in my current incarnation, patience and waiting feel more appropriate. What, in essence, is the rush? I have therefore learned to temper the busy doing with truly focusing on sensing the opportunities that lie just ahead. This principle of ‘not forcing anything’ can be applied to our conversations as well. Knowing when to speak and when to listen, when to question and when to accept, is an art that mirrors the flow of life itself.

About Tom O’Leary

My mission is to help others think differently – meaning more broadly and deeply – and thereby make better decisions. The key to thinking differently lies in our curiosity.

The more we question, the more possible answers we uncover, and the more we expand what we thought possible. Life has taught me that possibility lies not so much in seeking answers but in learning to ask better questions – the ones that help prioritise what is truly essential.

And yet, in a culture obsessed with efficiency and productivity, the paradox is that much energy and resources are wasted by a bias towards action over contemplation. If you are answering the wrong question, it doesn’t matter how ‘hard’ you work, you are still answering the wrong question.

That is why I am a big advocate of nurturing curiosity and innovative thinking at all ages, particularly amongst leaders because of the impact they have on us all. In my vision, leaders aren’t boxed in by traditional thinking or established playbooks. They are curious, open to fresh ideas and diverse perspectives, fostering a culture of exploration and learning.

How Might Tom Help?

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