I first came across the term telltale while sailing on San Francisco Bay. On that evening, the wind was hiding in a gentle way. It was hard to know if was coming from the west, prevailing, or from the north. I turned to the skipper and asked how he knew. He quietly said the word telltales and pointed to thin strips of cloth that were attached to the sail.
The Free Dictionary defines a telltale as “something that indicates or reveals information; a sign”. Telltales reveal a story, although one needs to learn how to read them. The evening on the bay was the beginning of a lesson series with a recurring theme; the apparent wind is not the same as the wind itself.
With multiple business conversations, I am struck by the difference one finds at the core. In one camp, it is as if we are constantly fitting unknown enemies and obstacles. In the other, there is a sense of hope and possibilities. The difficulties in each are more similar than they are different. The contrast between the two conversations comes in the telltales one finds in them. In the first, there is a recurring sense of negative and gloom. In the second, I find myself allied with individuals that are willing to put everything on the line. They are in the battle to win! While they know their limitations, they also know that there are others in their community who can fill in the gaps.
You can imagine which group I naturally want to spend time with. I realized that there is an implicit understanding that anchors the conversation that works. One writer described it this way; “when we worship the right way, God doesn’t stir us up into confusion; he brings us into harmony.” (1 Corinthians 14.32) We are focused and intentional. We are aligned in our intent and leveraging our differences for our mutual advantage.
Telltales are leading indicators. It took me awhile to learn what they meant in sailing. Life reminds me that the opportunity to learn is always here.