Time. Goal. Role. - Part One: Time


READ TIME: 3m 30s

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Time. Goal. Role.
Better conversations from an exploration of the obvious.

In my Going Back to Where it All Began post I made a list of what immediately sprang to mind as the most important things I learned on my first coaching course. Top of that list, are three key words that have been in my head every day since, and form the bedrock not only of every coaching conversation I have, but have been a profoundly useful checklist for the leaders I work with who want to have better conversations: time, goal, role.

From a coaching perspective, paying close attention to these three pillars ensure that what we are doing is coaching. A particular type of conversation, boundaried by an agreed length of time, focused on an agreed goal, and in which we are very clear what the role of a coach is so that we don’t stray into advising or mentoring or anything else that isn’t coaching. Not only do these pillars ensure that everyone involved is clear what we are doing, and why and how we are doing it –it makes it safe for the client to do so.

Here though, in three bite size pieces over three days, we’ll take a look at time, goal and role in your conversations at work. 

The start of a conversation is a rich breeding ground for all sorts of assumptions that can lead us to having at best an unsatisfactory outcome, and at worst an entirely different conversation from the one we intended. Paying attention to these three fundamentals will create the foundation for better conversations.

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I realize how glaringly obvious it sounds that when we start a conversation we need to be clear how long we have. And yet, on autopilot we start or agree to all sorts of conversations that we don’t actually have the appropriate amount of time for. How many conversations have you had that branch off at all sorts of (albeit interesting) angles, that can leave the original starting point far behind and suddenly you find yourself out of time? How many meetings have overrun or had things slip off the agenda because you have run out of time? When someone says ‘Can we talk about x’ do you look at your watch and say yes, and then feel uncomfortable because you need to get away but this is clearly important to the other person? Do you then feel terrible cutting them off, or make yourself late and unprepared for your next meeting or conversation?

The amount of time we have for a conversation is often overlooked. We allocate time for meetings or conversations out of habit, for example meetings are booked in for one hour and then filled for an hour, rather than agenda first and then an allocation of appropriate amount of time. Or if not, assumptions are made about it. We might even think that to say how much time we have available is rude, especially if it’s a short time.

 And yet it can very quickly lead to one person feeling like they have just got started and yet suddenly their time is up. Or someone very much wanting to give an issue their full attention, but knowing they have to be somewhere in six minutes they are now preoccupied with how they can extricate themselves from the conversation rather than being present and really listening.

When we are clear on how much time is available, everyone has choice, and there is permission to leave the conversation, as agreed, without anyone feeling they have been short changed. It means we can give our full attention to someone for the time available, knowing that there is an understanding of when the conversation has to finish, even if that means pressing pause because you’re not yet done. And this doesn’t mean that a conversation isn’t worth having unless we can give a lot of time to it. Five, even two minutes of fully focused attention on a person in these days of busy whirlwind and endless calls on our energy and attention, is a gift that person may rarely receive. 

Clients often say how paying more attention to their conversations ultimately saves time, because they have paid close attention and not missed a detail, or not ended up having to repeat the conversation. 

It’s also a great way to remind yourself of whether you do want to give this conversation time right now, and what that means for what you were otherwise planning to do in this time – it’s a reminder that you are making a choice. Do I want to give this conversation time right now? Will anyone, or anything else be kept waiting if I do, and is that OK? Am I responding out of habit, or truly listening and being present in this conversation? 

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My clients who tend to have a lot of “Can I catch you quickly about…’ conversations have noticed a positive difference in their stress levels and the quality of conversations they have by pausing, checking what the content of the conversation will be, being realistic about the time they have available and saying, for example, ‘I want to give this my full attention, let’s talk at 4.30’. 

That in turn can be a really useful way of avoiding the ‘fix it now’ trap that leaders often fall into. The unconscious part of our brain that has started us helping, fixing and mending before we have given the conscious part of our brain time to assess the real purpose of the conversation and whose role it is to do something about it. 

Time: Be present. Choose thoughtfully. Make it clear for everyone. Avoid drift. 

  • How much time do I truly have available?

  • Is it enough time for this conversation? (read on to connect this with goal)

  • Make a choice about whether to have the conversation. Whether now or later, when you do have the conversation, be clear with yourself and others how much time you are choosing to give it. 

  • When time is up – choose – to continue bearing in mind anywhere else you could/should be. Or to arrange to resume the conversation at an agreed time.

One more thing about time. What’s the habitual chunk you think of time in? When I was teaching I would set meetings to last a full period (50 minutes) of time, and guess what, they lasted 50 minutes. Often the work could have been done in 30 minutes or less. Sometimes we needed much longer. When you set meetings or agree to any kind of conversation do you set the timing from habit, or do you pause to think about how much time you are likely to need in light of the subject of the conversation.

Which brings us to goal. But right now, the time it would take to read this that I promised you at the top of this article is up. So, more on that tomorrow.