Good writing should both lead you in and tell you where we are headed together, giving the reader enough information to experience full choice about how to continue.
Why should conversations be any different?
I really enjoy when conversations are framed at the outset. A close friend who knows me well foreshadows conversations: “Bob, I’d like to discuss our plans for the baseball game.” This allows me to adjust my focus; anything less might be experienced as abrupt.
Seriously – at any given moment, I’m already running seventeen different thoughts, and I would need a moment to realize and choose to pay attention to another. I’m easily caught off-guard. And although there may be some objective validity to this preference for framing, I know that my struggles are at least in part related to some of my habitual difficulties, aka “lagging skills,” with transitions.
As it turns out, I know quite a bit about my “lagging skills.” Most of us don’t inventory our executive-functioning abilities. I do. And the first ability listed in the “Assessment of Lagging Skills & Unsolved Problems” at the Center for Collaborative Problem Solving is “Difficulty handling transitions, shifting from one mindset or task to another.” Oh boy.
I can get so caught up in my train of thoughts that everything feels like interruption. I experience every conversation I do not initiate as jarring.
As you can probably imagine, this can be hard for the people in my life to handle. As a kid, there was never a good moment for my father to remind me to mow the lawn; I was always engaged in something. As much as I work to take responsibility for my own thriving in the world, I just wish there was more consideration. In my fantasy world, before initiating a conversation, people would ask if I had a moment.
Of course, we usually can’t make our fantasy worlds come true without some effort.
For many lagging skills, including this one, we can train kids and encourage adults to overcome their developmental delays. And sometimes, we can set them up for success and make transitions easier on them. Colleagues and I call giving advance notice “frontloading”, and it gives people a chance to gather their internal resources (including focus) to attend to the new person or idea.
I may love the color blue, but I hate when things come out of the blue.