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BriefConsulting 1.3: Not Supposed To Talk About

“What are we not supposed to talk about here?” I start most of my briefest consultations with this question because anyone responding to it tends to unstick shortly thereafter. I believe that the primary cause of stuckness lies not in any sin of commission, but in insignificant-seeming pseudo-sins of omission. What we dare not mention holds us captive, to mention whatever we’re not supposed to talk about tends to release the prisoner.

Sometimes my client responds, “Oh, nothing. We’re very open around here. We can talk about anything, anytime.”

”Fine,” I respond, then I watch and listen more carefully to hear what doesn’t get talked about. What dog isn’t barking? What birds never sing? Because omissions tend to be the most easily resolved difficulties, merely mentioning them, defangs them.

I usually find perfectly good reasons for the unspoken rule declaring what must not be said. Good reasons, if out-dated. There was usually a time when, for whatever good reason at the time, muteness became the choice. But the consideration outgrew its purpose, that there and then up and went, leaving behind a kind of verbal blindness, unspeakable, benign. Benign at first, smothering later. No longer a well-considered choice but an imprisoning imperative. A tacit tyrant.

Further into the conversation, I usually have a suspect or two. Something passes by, perhaps a minor slight, that feels a bit out of place. Someone might admit to some sadness while curiously smiling at me, whatever the cue, the words and music seem askew, and I notice. Then what do I do?

I ask rather than jump to conclusions. I inquire because I really want to know. Instead of presume, I try to make room for the silence to expand into sound. Often, my client hadn’t noticed the elephant they’d been so diligently, pre-consciously stepping around. The cordoned-off space had become commonplace, and that hollow space never makes a sound.

There’s a thin candy shell surrounding every smothering silence I’ve found. It might feel impermeable, but rarely is. It almost always seems like a bitter pill before someone takes a bite, then laughter most often ensues. Few experiences are more heart-lightening than the sound of a silence revealed, and we giggle a bit, relieved. We’ll breathe a bit easier then, too.

I suppose the relief comes from the shocking realization that comes when nobody dies. The secret’s revealed, and nobody’s a penny poorer for it. After many iterations of this satisfying dance, I’ve adopted a principle in my practice. I must talk about what I’m not supposed to talk about if I hope to make any difference at all.

©2012 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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