Aisle. Altar. Hymn.

It’s an old joke but still makes me smile. The nervous bride is desperate to remember the order of events in her wedding – she walks up the aisle, she and her groom approach the altar, they sing a hymn. She mutters this under her breath as the service begins: by the time she arrives at her groom’s side, all he hears is ‘I’ll alter him.’

I fear our fictitious bride will be disappointed. Much as we might like to, we can’t change other people: we can only change ourselves.

When faced with a difficult conversation with a colleague, we tend to decide in advance how we think it’s going to go. ‘He always gets defensive’; ‘She never has the figures to back up her forecasts’. Before we begin speaking, we’re reacting to something that hasn’t even happened yet.

Remember the road safety advice ‘stop, look and listen’? That’s what we need to do in that situation. Stop imagining the conversation will go the way it always does; look at how we’re reacting emotionally and listen to what that reaction suggests to us about how we will behave in that situation.

Let’s say I have a meeting scheduled with Phil, a colleague from another team, about a project we’re going to work on together. There are no two ways about it: I need to meet with him but, before we even meet, I’m imagining Phil is going to bring up a whole load of irrelevant issues like he always does. I notice that I’m becoming stressed and frustrated by that thought. That frustration could lead to me being terse and defensive when talking to Phil. I already feel my shoulders hunching with tension like I’m preparing for a fight.

No wonder those conversations don’t go so well.

Having stopped, looked and listened to my feelings about this scheduled meeting, I can ask myself how I’d rather the conversation went. Rather than being uptight and tense, I want to feel calm and confident. Rather than squaring up to Phil with pre-fight adrenalin flooding my system, I want to be breathing efficiently and for my posture to suggest I’m engaged and open to the conversation. I want to keep the meeting on track and I want it to be collaborative and mutually beneficial.

I tried this. It was a great conversation. It was like having a meeting with a different man. I couldn’t believe how much he’d changed.

Oh, that’s the point, isn’t it? He hadn’t changed: I had.

Today’s pebble for you to contemplate: How can you ‘be the change you wish to see’ this week?

Do let me know what you think,


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching. 

If you’d like to make progress in your work and life, why not email me to see how we can work together?

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