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conversation

Lessons in Conversation and Relationship

One of my dad’s favorite jokes (at least I think it was one of his favorites.  He certainly tells it often) goes like this:

Bob decides to do some baking and discovers that he doesn’t have any sugar.  “No problem,” Bob thinks, “I’ll just borrow some from Harry.  I’m sure he wouldn’t mind lending me a cup of sugar.” And he sets out to walk next door to Harry’s place.

On his way, Bob thinks to himself, “I’m sure Harry won’t mind.  He’ll give me some sugar. “Why wouldn’t he?  We’re neighbors after all. He will. But what if he doesn’t?  Why not?  I mean, after I lent him my canoe last week. I didn’t even complain that he’d kept the canoe a day longer than he said he would.  He’s got to lend me the sugar! I can’t believe Harry would even consider saying no.  I thought we had a better relationship than that.  I mean really.  Some friend.”

Bob knocks on Harry’s front door.  While he’s waiting, he thinks, “Imagine, saying no to a simple cup of sugar.  What a jerk.  To think I’ve called him friend.”

Harry opens his front door to find Bob standing stiffly on his porch, and Bob shouts: “YOU CAN KEEP YOUR DAMN SUGAR!”

This is an extreme example of a kind of “dialogue” many of us have every day.  I put dialogue in quotes because clearly this is something a bit closer to a monologue, but it includes Bob’s imagining of Harry’s response.  He doesn’t even need Harry to bring the “conversation” through to completion.

I find this joke funny because I recognize myself in Bob.  And I also find it funny because I’ve been in Harry’s shoes, stunned and bemused by someone’s response to me – seemingly coming from left field.

The other day, one of my clients was telling me about trouble he’d been having with some of the coaching I’d given him the week before.  He told me he’d loved the tool I’d given him, but after using it for a few days, he became unsure of how to use it.  And so for the rest of the week, he did without it, and the benefits it had brought him fell away. “Why didn’t you call me to talk with me about how to apply it?” I asked.

He told me, “I didn’t want to bother you.  We weren’t scheduled to talk for almost a week, and I knew you were busy.”

“It’s true,” I told him.  “I was busy, but I would have taken a few minutes with you.  Our relationship is bigger than schedules and appointments.”

It’s not just that this client was trying to spare me the nuisance of having to talk with him (not something I would have considered a nuisance).  In order to arrive at that thought, my client had a version of Bob’s conversation in his own head. The thing about these conversations we have is that they are based in fear.  Sometimes, we talk ourselves out of the chance to have what we want in a relationship with someone else.  Sometimes we talk ourselves into grabbing what we want.  Bob might just as well have shouted, “Jerk,” shoved Harry out of the way, rushed into the kitchen and thrown open the cupboard.  “I lent you my canoe, so the least you can do is let me have this sugar!”

The cost of having these conversations solo is that we can never gain what we’re really after – acceptance and appreciation in relationships we value.  We want to see ourselves through others’ eyes and find we matter.

When I was a realtor, I had trouble – as so many in business do – in asking for referrals.  I knew, from my clients’ heartfelt thanks, that they’d gotten good value in our relationship and felt well served.  Still, in my fear, the conversation in my head went like this: “If you feel you’ve gotten good service from me, and you know anyone else who is planning to buy or sell a home and who would appreciate having the kind of customer service I’ve given you, would you ask them if it’s alright if I gave them a call?” Then they’d say, “Wow!  Your service was great, until now.  Now you’re just another pushy salesman,” in my head. Then I’d laugh, and I’d really ask for the referral, and often they’d give me one.  Sometimes they wouldn’t have a referral to give.  Never did they seem to be put out.

If you don’t have the conversation, and instead, have only the “conversation,” then you’re cheating yourself.  Worst case scenario if you ask – you don’t get.  If you don’t ask, you surely don’t get, or you get by grabbing, and you feel lousy.  If you ask and you don’t get, then heck, at least you gave it a shot.

And we do this everywhere in life.  Don’t ask for the date, don’t get the date.  Don’t ask your husband for that backrub, don’t get the backrub. In order to be received, we’ve got to put it out there.  Our radios only serve to give us music, news, and entertainment because there are towers out there broadcasting.

One of my favorite shows as a kid was 3-2-1 Contact.  “Contact is secret; is the moment when everything happens! Contact is the answer; is the reason that everything happens!  Contact! Let’s make contact!”

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