Waterside conversations

May I talk to you about waterside conversations?

I’ve been living with the idea for several years now. It makes sense to me because this is the kind of work I do. It gives shape and context to the dialogue, whether one-to-one, with an existing team or amongst different people exploring collaboration.

It’s not just talking. Trying to get the point across…

It’s a quiet space to listen generously, explore widely, and pursue deeply. Using our whole selves and our courageous insights. Precious attributes which are so often absent from our working lives, where we play a role and miss the rest.

Fundamentally, it is a safe creative space to change the conversation for good. Not just to find the right answer, quickly.

But it takes time and intent. The courage to put aside the operational demands, the always-on access, and the short-term agendas. And allow ourselves the space to do the work that really matters. For us and for our future.

This isn’t something that computers can do for us. It’s intensely human, and unlike AI, we can’t just switch it on.

Stepping into the story

Psychologically we are able to be most present when we know where we are. As humans, stories are our home territory with a clear beginning, a middle that takes us somewhere new, and a satisfying end. This is how we make sense of all that has gone before, embrace the shift, and feel ready for the next instalment.

Waterside conversations are like that too.

We can’t skip a good beginning, with the space to name the parts well. Jumping into the middle, when not everybody is on the same page, closes down the potential for creative exploration. Think about it – what a waste…

Here’s the thing. If you are genuinely seeking fresh solutions, you never completely know what’s coming. You might have a sense of direction and recognise the outline of the challenges or opportunities. But there is always the element of surprise.

This is an organic process and of course, this has risk. But if what we already have isn’t working, or it could be substantially better, then it’s a risk worth taking.

Creative middles

This might take many forms, all of which are tailored to those involved and why we are here.

And there are pause points, to let things settle enough to see what else emerges. Because it always does.

Our minds need breathing space to make connections and see patterns below the surface. Some of us think out loud, whilst others are more fruitful in reflection.

We need space for all, and as Augustin of Hippo discovered – solvitur ambulando – ‘it is solved by walking’. Simply getting up and moving around, especially outside, is powerful.

In this middle section, some wonder if we’ll ever get to the end. It’s not clear. Yet… But I know – from experience and the psychological theory behind my practice – it will come. We just need to hold our nerve and trust the process. It never fails, like finding that the final jigsaw piece was there all the time, just turned upside down.

Good endings

‘To make an ending is to make a beginning’

… as TS Eliot penned in The Four Quartets.

It’s the point we get to that allows us to take the next step forward. Psychologically, we are released to move on. We are not left hanging.

Without this opportunity for meaning-making, which will be different for each of us, then we’ll just go round the cycle again. And again. Until people walk away – either physically, leaving the team, project or job – or absent themselves internally. Leaving their motivation and discretionary effort behind, and being there in body only.

The good ending also may not be the one you thought you were reaching for… We may end up somewhere completely different.

However, I know that this is because we surface the real issues – either internally or in the wider context – and this is the real work.

In Gestalt terms, we’re stood in the field. Metaphorically speaking, at least usually.

The place for waterside conversations

Of course, this all requires curiosity and trust. Not characteristics frequently cultivated in our workplaces – but what are quiet disruptors for but to call out the realities?

That’s why I call them waterside conversations because they signal something different and invite an experience that reaches us in ways that normal meetings and off-the-shelf away-days don’t.

They are immersive, rather than intensive – usually at least a whole day so they don’t compete with other schedules. Their relaxed, informal process invites us to bring our whole selves, not just our roles or established personas. And it gives attention to what really matters for our work, our team, or our enterprise to thrive.

It shifts from being a game of ping-pong to being alive and emergent, often surprising participants by how much they achieve.

… but isn’t work supposed to be hard?…

Waterside Conversations don’t have to be here in South West Wales, though this is a good place. We have been able to cultivate the environment over the years and know some of the things that make for fertile ground. Including good food…

Why waterside conversations?

So why am I passionate about the practice of waterside conversations?

As a former chief exec and leader in a number of fields, I despair at the quality of our thinking and talking time together. Great intentions get squandered and good people are overwhelmed by the busyness and constant demands that squeeze their horizons to the urgent and short term.

I want to change the conversation, for good.

We know we need a different way of talking and thinking about things that matter. Now.

Are you ready to change the conversation too?

Thanks for reading


PS. Find out more about Waterside Conversations at The Waterside or give me a call +44 (0) 7775710240

This week

Every week is different and this has had a sense of being grounded – like tamping down the foundations before you start to build.