I just returned from a trade show. The keynote speaker was a police officer who wanted to educate the group on public safety and what to do in a crisis. Before getting into specifics he wanted to share the mindset of a policeman on the “street” and how he thinks in a given situation.
What had value for me was highlighting the extreme difference in thought of the two participants at the same moment in his example. Here is the story:
A mother was driving home on a suburban side street. She came up to a stop sign and instead of stopping she slowed down and “rolled through it” seeing that no one was near the intersection.
The police man in a police car nearby saw this and turned his flashing lights on to get her to stop so that he could give her a ticket.
What was the mother thinking at that moment? She knew that she didn’t stop. But she was in a hurry to make dinner because she needed to get her son to basketball practice and then her daughter to her volleyball game. No one was around. What harm was there in what she did? Didn’t the police officer have anything better to do to keep everyone safe?
What was the police officer thinking? As the car slowed to a stop, he was thinking what danger was he going to walk into. Will the driver back up and run him over as he walked towards the car? Did the person inside have a gun and could possibly shoot him? Did they have a knife that could possibly be used against him if he asked the driver to get out of the car? What was he going to do if the driver was very unruly?
Can their thinking be any more different even though they were part of the same experience?
Both saw or knew that a car had not stopped at a stop sign. At that precise moment there was no overlap in the thoughts of either.
This is what I mean when I use the phrase “the collision of conversation”. When two people first talk and their minds are in totally separate worlds when they first meet (even though they may be meeting about the same topic).
Since we cannot be two people at once, I would guess that this collision of conversation occurs between us and others many, many more times than we think.
The collision is never felt physically when starting a conversation. It’s only over time when we become frustrated, disappointed, or misunderstood. Our words together with our time did not bring about anything of value between us and someone else. The relationship between us could become damaged if we cannot overcome the collision.
We need to slow down to be understood and to understand (think Steven Covey) so that the collisions of conversation diminish and are buffered by creating the space needed in conversation for each person to express themselves fully.
You need to give a person time to “adjust themselves” to the same moment and place in time that you are sharing with them when starting a conversation. They need to give us time to “adjust” ourselves as well. This is what is called “being present in the moment.”
Being present in all conversations takes practice. The rewards of not colliding with others will be found in the other person’s eyes when you truly connect.
(It’s the only way you can see when their heart begins to smile.)