Listening

What would you say to me if I was listening?

Over the break, I attended several parties and events. They’re a great way to meet interesting people and explore conversations with people who, perhaps, think about things differently than I do.

One stands out though, and while the event was three weeks ago it stayed with me and I’ve pondered it in quiet moments.

I was in a group of people, I had no idea what they did and they had no idea what I do. But we were having a great time discussing politics, people, and events. At some point, the conversation turned to what we do and I was blown away to learn that one of them is chair of an oil company, another is CEO of an energy company and another is Chair of a large primary producer. When it got to me and I told them about how RNC runs projects and programs for organizations – the conversation stopped.

What had I said?

They all spoke at once, asking questions about what type of project and for which industries.

A little bit of exploration and it became clear projects and programs (which they don’t distinguish) are a serious pain point in each of their businesses.

I said what I usually say “it doesn’t have to be that way”.

The Chair of the oil company asked: “how?”.

We were at a party, not a business meeting so I said: “Well, basically people have drunk the cool aid and choose to believe there is magic to be had, magic which negates human nature, magic where time can be used twice, and magic where planning and focus can be avoided.”

I continued “no one wants to hear the truth, it’s a genuine example of hope and fantasy being more compelling than truth and reality. It’s so much more attractive to hear about the magic – of course, it’s never described as magic, that’s part of the magic, it’s always described as honest, factual and credible, it’s quite a magic act”.

The CEO asked, “well what do you do?” I replied, “typically we come in when people are ready to listen, things aren’t going well, and someone high enough, cares enough to intervene”.

“So,” asked the Chair of the oil company, “what would you say to me if I was listening?”

I was silent. Then, “you mean at the start of a project? or about projects generally? or do you have one you’re worried about? The truth? Actual reality?” He replied, “all of that”.

After taking a beat I replied, “no one has ever asked that and I don’t have a prepared answer, and we’re at a party, can we speak in the New Year?” “Sure can I have your card”, “I don’t have one with me, but I can find you through our host…..” (lame I know).

Then in a flash of inspiration I added, “in the meantime think about what you’d do with the truth, would anything change, sometimes the truth isn’t useful and can only add to frustration”. His reply “my CEO will hear it too”.

By the next day he’d found me and set up a meeting – that meeting is next week and I am relishing the process of distilling the information in a way that is positive, doesn’t focus on knocking the ‘magic’ and which can be understood, then applied.

Interestingly the CEO and other Chair from the party have also reached out for meetings. Who knows what will come of the conversations but there is always hope.

I’ve drafted the content of my truth for these meetings, but I haven’t posted them here as I fear the backlash. I’ll think about it though as it’s not a good reflection on society, the profession or me if fear stops me speaking.