Bowline Knot

The experience of being understood, versus interpreted, is so compelling, you can charge admission.”   B. Joseph Pine, II, The Experience Economy

Ask any boating enthusiast to list the top marine knots they use and most will include the bowline knot.  Why do boaters like this knot?  As someone who has great passion for boating and fishing, and who often finds a way to be on the water, I can give three reasons:

The bowline knot is simple to tie, absolutely will hold under a heavy load, and yet is easy to unravel.  Forming a loop at the end of a rope, the bowline can be tied quickly around a post for docking and yet, just as fast, can be untangled as a boater departs again from the dock.  I have personally used it on more than one occasion to pull another boat that was broken down. So from personal experience, I know that it holds under a load.

A viable instrument simple to use in the challenging marine environment, a bowline is the perfect tool.  I can think of a lot of instruments in this world that I wish were as simple to use and always worked. How about you?  At the top of my list would be a communication tool.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a simple tool to implement during challenging conversations in which we are engaged with essential people surrounding us? Do you ever wish that an upcoming conversation was over before it even started?   We have all been there and continue to be there . . . it’s one of those dreaded moments.

The start of the conversation is difficult. The middle is difficult. The end is difficult.   Attempting to end our talk on a positive note, all too often seems impossible.  Do you ever have such conversations with others where you just want to throw your hands in the air and say “I give up!?”

If you are like me, with a number of relationships in which there are ongoing conversations, then you have one or two communicators within your circle who test you to the limit. Unfortunately, many of the resultant conversations cannot be escaped. It’s part of life. If good communication is the path to successful relationships – poor communication can be the problem.  How can we do this well and avoid the frustration and unwelcome ending? Is there a ‘bowline’ equivalent in communication?

Susan Scott, in her book Fierce Conversations, has identified some mistakes often made in one-on-one conversations.  Before we can begin to communicate successfully, we may need to halt the things we do that make things more challenging.  Rather than a list of what to do, we might start with what not to do. Susan identifies these common communication mistakes:

  1. Doing most of the talking
  2. Taking the problem away from someone
  3. Not inquiring about feelings
  4. Allowing interruptions
  5. Delivering unclear messages


Which one of the five identifies your conversational style?  Immediately I recognize one that is prevalent in my own conversations.  I want to take the problem away from someone. I want to make it better.  My heart may be in the right place. But, good intentions do not mean that there are always good results.

Susan writes:  “There is a profound difference between having a title, a job description, or a marriage license and being someone to whom people commit at the deepest level. If we wish to accomplish great things in our organizations and in our lives, then we must come to terms with a basic human need: We must recognize humans share a universal longing to be known and , being known, to be loved.

When our conversations with others disregard this core need, our lives can seem like an ongoing, exhausting, struggle to influence others to do what we want them to do, to rise to their potential, to accomplish the goals of the organization or of the relationship. We persuade, cajole, manipulate, and issue directives. Nothing changes. Deadlines are missed. The scenery is boring. People and relationships are on automatic pilot.”

I recognize myself in Susan’s powerful and revealing words.

At times, I just need to slow down and allow some conversations to have what I call organic space – breathing room . . . a pause. To allow another person to really express all of their thoughts. To ask penetrating questions so that the other person can share at a deeper level. To be with the person and with nothing else in my life.  No distractions. No cell phones ringing.  Not me, but rather the other person.  Easy to write, but tough to do. What do you think?

In an extremely busy and noisy world, the space where no word is spoken is not a bad area. It may seem uncomfortable.  But, here is my personal experience. During an intense discussion where one is allowed and encouraged to freely express their thoughts, the first words from the other person after a time of silence is revealing, heartfelt and core to the relationship.  These words are often more powerful and important than a whole hour of words spoken earlier.  The arrival at this destination is achieved only through listening.

In this area, I am a work in progress. My family will confirm this fact. Practice and more practice is my answer.  There is hope!  The good results I see and experience encourage me in this journey.

A bowline is easy to tie, works under a load and is easy to untie.  How can I duplicate this in my daily communication with others?

In my current challenging conversations, what is getting in the way? What do I need to stop doing?

The others in my life want to be known and loved.

Today, as I enter a conversation, I am going to . . .



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