Forget electricity, diesel or gas. Time is our most precious – and limited – commodity. It’s also one of our most expensive.
How much does it cost you to give someone a bit of time? Will you have to pay for it by staying attached to the laptop that bit longer; by having to reply to an email while watching a child dance or play in front of you; by rejuggling a day that was already looking a bit too cramped for comfort? You are not alone in hoarding what little time you have, spending it only if you feel you really have to.
So when someone asks if you have time for a chat, its only understandable if you ask “why and what can we achieve from our time together?”. Imagine how you feel if they respond “No real reason. I just wanted a catch up about things in general.” At the very least some folk might be reluctant to commit a precious diary slot to this vagueness if not downright hostile to the thought of devoting time to something without any perceived action deriving from it. And it’s not because people don’t like speaking. It’s just that they don’t always have the time they would like for such niceties.
But what if we were to see conversations not as ‘nice to haves’ but ‘have to haves’ – not luxuries but essentials? The Social Enterprise and Third Sectors are particularly populated by people who are action orientated. Whether you call them outputs, outcomes or measurable impacts, we often feel the need to defend where we spend our time and commitment. Yet increasingly in the facilitation and communications work I do, I am hearing stories of people feeling trapped in a hamster wheel of ‘doing’, unable to stop for fear that the show they are running comes off the road. People are exhausted from the constant pivoting of the last two years and yet already running to catch up with the challenges that the looming cost of living crisis is throwing at them.
To suggest to such time-poor, impact deliverers that the best thing they can do is to stop and take time out to listen, share and connect with others around them isn’t always welcome. “It may be nice, but we just can’t justify spending time on that at the moment” is a common response I hear. Oh how I would love to take the time to tell them about the conversations I have seen that have changed hearts and minds and ultimately communities; of the open spaces in which people have felt safe to share not just their joys but also their sorrows and thereby brought healing to the team they are part of; of the transformation that is unlocked when elephants in the room are not just mentioned but recognised and described for who and what they are.
But you probably don’t have time to listen to all that just now. Instead, hear this. Conversation is an action. It is an action which can help you not just see where you are but how you have got there. It is an action which can release tension out of a situation and leave space for energy to get in. It is an action from which stories of past success and failure can inform and impact on the future. It is an action which we cannot afford to not take the time to do.