The View of the Future is Always Incomplete

Have you ever rehearsed a conversation that hasn’t even happened yet?  I have.  It’s funny how we torment ourselves with possible future scenarios, isn’t it?  Here’s a recent example from my own life.

One morning an e-mail popped up from an HR business partner client, Jane.  I’m involved in a particularly challenging coaching engagement with a senior technical expert in Jane’s organization.  Jane, who I respect deeply, engaged me to help, but she was overly involved in the coaching process, sometimes testing the boundaries of confidentiality.  Every time I saw her name in my inbox, I’d go into a major thought tailspin.  What was it now?  What new accusations have been made about my coachee?  How am I going to answer her questions yet maintain rapport with my coachee?

I’d get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach and, with a sense of urgency, would immediately start frantically typing a response.  But this time, I stopped.

Sometimes when I least expect it, I have a helpful insight.  While I know this capability is build-in to the design of the human mind, insights, when they come, can still surprise me.

This time, I realized a few things before responding:

  1. I was in a reaction
  2. I have excellent rapport with Jane
  3. I was making lots of conclusions based on a few sentences of information in an email.

It occurred to me to ask for a short phone meeting rather than start an email exchange.  We set it up for two days later.

During those two days, I often found myself projecting and rehearsing the conversation.  But then I had another insight.

“I have no idea what I’ll be thinking and feeling on Thursday morning.  And I have no idea what Jane will be thinking and feeling on Thursday morning.” 

My view of the future was incomplete because there’s no telling what thoughts might occur in the moment.

I did my best to stop ruminating, and on Thursday morning, listened to what Jane had to say.  Instead of accusations, I heard her heart felt concern for my coachee and appreciation for what he was up against.  We batted some ideas around and in 15 minutes came up with an idea to help not only the coachee but the folks who have trouble understanding him.  It was easy!  It felt great!

That’s the beauty of the intelligent design of the human operating system.  We are hard-wired for insight and creativity, but we tend to torment ourselves with possible future scenarios.  Had I continued to ruminate, I might’ve blocked the process of insight, or worse, I might’ve started an epic email thread.  Luckily, this time I didn’t.

Knowing the design is most of the battle.