F riedrich Nietzsche, the German philosopher, in his book “Human, all too human,” left us with the idea of marriage as a long conversation.

“When marrying, you should ask yourself this question: do you believe you are going to enjoy talking with this woman into your old age? Everything else in a marriage is transitory, but most of the time that you’re together will be devoted to conversation.”

Remember a time in your life when you felt a deep and profound passion for someone you had not had the time to get to know yet. If this is the state that you’re in, you can spare your memory and, instead, access your consciousness, within the confines of a person in love. With that, I leave you with a proposal for briefly analysing the conversations that loved ones have and how that reflection can be useful to understanding the conversations that take place in a work team.

Typically, people in love talk about themselves and their objects of passion, and in that state, even what is considered a flaw or a vulnerability tends to be dressed up as its opposite. In the back and forth of conversation, lovers take delight in knowing the other person, expecting the same kind of joy from their counterpart. The best attributes, virtues, flaws, and mistakes are all labelled with the same colour, the same intensity and urgency. This first kind of conversation, in its essence, aims to create and consolidate the relationship.

If the bond endures, and even in the initial phase, it’s usual for another kind of conversation to start to appear. This second type of conversation is destined to explore possibilities: “what if we travel together to x?”; “how wonderful would be if we moved in together…”; “how will we be as a family?”; etc. It’s only possible to explore the future if and when you have had enough conversations to strengthen the relationship; when some kind of trust/conviction/faith about what the relationship might become has been installed.

When some of these possibilities have been explored to the point of consummation, life takes charge and brings on a third type of conversation: those that intend to coordinate actions. When a relationship reaches this point, the potential for disagreement and misalignment is inevitably activated. For instance, when two people start to live in the same house, like magic, some activities appear: doing the dishes, taking care of the laundry, replenish the refrigerator, coordinate vacation, pick up the kids, etc. By then, amongst other factors, if the intervenients do not hold a conversation record that is broad, diverse, and effective enough, conflict and misunderstanding may arise. This may succeed, partly, because the need to coordinate action has an impact on the time and the availability to have conversations of the other two kinds. On the other hand, action coordination’s effectiveness will depend on the level of self and mutual knowledge in a relationship and, also, on the opportunities that were generated to explore new possibilities.

So, it seems to be clear that there are interconnections and interdependencies between these three types of conversation that, in their turn, comprise the stage where everything happens: the relationship creates and consolidates itself by conversation, it’s future is projected during talk and is made possible (action) through the same vehicule.

I believe that the same dynamics and hypothesis can be applied to teams. My recent experience showed me this, although in an empirical way. When I asked a team which of the three types of conversation is the most frequent, the answer was, with little variation, “We spend 90% of the time talking about what has to be done”. Work teams exist so that they can attain results. And to get results, impeccable action coordination is a desired trait. However, to have that, I believe that taking 10% of the time to build relationships and explore possibilities is not enough. How many teams (that you know of) talk about the way they talk? I’m not referring to one-to-one conversations on the hallway or next to the coffee machine – I mean the time spent in conversation as a team. I don’t know that many, but the ones I do know are outstanding teams.

Returning to Nietzsche’s idea about marriage, both couples and teams who are successful are the ones that can, continuously and constantly, have conversations about the relationship(s) and its maintenance and evolution, continue to explore possibilites, and are able to coordinate action effectively. In the end, I’m talking about the couples and teams that, despite the need to coordinate, sustain the importance and relevance of diversifying their conversations. The measures and proportions are not written anywhere and should be adjusted to the ever-transitory reality. The way that we know of to make all this possible is, unsurprisingly, conversation. It will be vital that we manage to develop a new kind of conversation that connects all the others: conversations about the way we converse.

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