Invoke the Unexpected Turn

Boil it down, and every conversation unfolds in one of two ways: It becomes predictable, or it takes an unexpected turn.

A social dinner the other evening so compellingly reminds me. 7 of us in a beautiful home in the enchanted Lakes section of Hollywood, Florida where I live. 2 of the guests are new to me. In the midst of hors d’oeuvres my friend Olga Botcharova casually mentions that she has worked with folks who have experienced trauma.

In the midst of hors d’oeuvres my friend Olga Botcharova casually mentions that she has worked with folks who have experienced trauma.

I have a Masters Degree in Conflict Resolution, Laura Sala, 1 of the guests I have not previously met, announces.

I only know one other person with a Conflict Resolution degree. Laura’s mention drops us into a scintillating conversation about international conflict resolution, a topic that I am most passionate about. But here’s the part I want you to get.

I don’t normally mention my Conflict Resolution degree, Laura explains. People have no idea what it is or how to respond when I mention it.

Laura’s self-revelation is the unexpected turn. We notice. A group of folks does a together-turn.

The moment of a conversational turn can slip away at the drop of a dime. Back to predictable. And the moment only happens when it is invoked.

The unexpected turn is easy, in a way, with someone we newly meet. A surprising self-revelation may do the trick. A past experience I share that doesn’t match my current image. Interests I have that belie the trappings of where we are. A provocative mention that is not news to my friends but new to you because, well, we have only just met.

We need to say it, just as Laura needed to say it. A private thought invokes no directional change.

The unexpected turn is tougher in a well-oiled relationship. Predictable tends to reign in many workplace conversations. I anticipate what you will say before you say it. Predicable suggestions about strategy, about process improvement, about problem-solving, about just about everything.  Same old same old same old.

How do we invoke the unexpected turn in familiar terrain?

Court unexpected thought. Crave unfamiliar experiences. Unexpected thought is fueled by a voracious interest in new ideas, fresh research, staying informed, not merely by sources with a predictable point of view or a narrow field of inquiry. Unfamiliar experiences jolt us into a new awareness of ourselves. A client took me Go-Kart racing last week. I was confronted with the seduction of speed, my fear of a crash, my relationship to winning, body memories. Unfamiliar turf. Potent stuff.

Don’t be predictable, please. Spit it out, the surprise, the unexpected. Invoke the turn.

Unexpected turns energize a conversation. They’re a double win. I energize others. Others, in turn, energize me. We experience the joys of the together-turn.

Turn freely, turn unexpectedly. The alternative isn’t pretty.