I’ve often been accused of having a carriage wit.
The first time I was told this, it took me a while to get it – which is the very soul of irony – but it’s correct. Carriage wit is the kind of humour that occurs to you “on the carriage ride home,” rather than in the moment. As I very rarely manage to come up with sharp retorts to jokes, especially when I’m trying, I’ve learned to compensate by way of attitude.
A lack of response – whether actual or perceived – is one of the few surefire ways to destroy a conversation. Any response, even a bad one, is often better than dead air. We all experience the dead air problem sometimes, some of us more than others. One of the first steps to avoiding them is recognising first how they arise.
You can bet you’re headed to an opportunity for dead space if you…
… Notice that you’re focusing on an outcome without knowing the mechanics needed to get there. Outcomes are great – but if the outcome is “crossing the ocean” and you haven’t decided you need a boat, there’s a problem.
… Find out that your audience has a deeper expertise than you do. This happens all the time; we make declarations and get shot down.
… Continually change focus to the new hotness, instead of sticking with what’s known to work. Adding new tools to your shed doesn’t have to mean kicking the old ones out.
… Think the highway to success is the destination itself. Because that’s just silly.
… Mistake the wall you’re closing in on for your original goal. Few things are quite so disastrous as failing to change course when obstacles loom.
So how can we avoid these pitfalls? Well, I’m sure there are those of you with deeper experience on this, as well as those with a history of course correction. I’ll gladly invite your input, as we can all learn from each other.
However, I’ve found that…
… Learning to operate with the assumption that you’re missing information can be beneficial. Just don’t let it become a function of lower confidence.
… Learning to ask questions – even the ones we think are silly – is essential.
… And, following up any perceived loose ends is a surefire way to keep them from unravelling.
So many problems are better dealt with up front. By the time something’s become an obvious issue, the effort needed to recover from it is so much larger – and the stakes so much higher – than they ever could be as an awkward request for confirmation.
Image by Don O’Brien.