Perry Timms
5 min readJul 19, 2018


In the customary single-word, hashtag’d style of writing I’ve stuck to on here, this word — when — popped into my head and here’s why.

https://pixabay.com/en/who-how-what-where-why-when-2985525/ by Geralt

There was a time, not that long ago, when many of us seemed to circle around a concept of using social networks to cultivate new, fresh and invigorating relationships. Groups, communities, sub-sets of people converged and the world seemed to have a new way of connecting, sharing and supporting each other. And then it didn’t seem so bouncy, fruitful and vibrant.

  • When did this become something more sinister? When was this spoiled by ego, distaste and fracture? When did you stop believing in me / I stop believing in you?
  • When did my use of a phrase suddenly become irksome to you?
  • When did I offend you with a tweet, a post, a meme or an image?
  • When did that theory I subscribed to become the subject of rage?
  • When did you change your views about me or I about you?

See we search for a “when” as we notice that difference in reaction, that withdrawal of support or that sudden muted response to something we put out as a provocation; or that less-then-delicate challenge which has more barbed, spiky and venomous feelings where previously there’s been a “you OK hun?” kind of gentle private message.

We seem to notice that there is a missing or different reaction; a lack of response and a loss of “signal”. When did this happen?

Of course we also search for a why — and of course we do. Missing pieces need filling in.

It’s the pursuit of the why though, that causes the when to potentially disappear from our thoughts.

The assembly of evidence to bring light to darkness. Explanation to confusion. And reason to the unexpected. When seems to disappear somewhat from our rationalising process.

Yet the when is important.

Because when is the time that something changed. When someone rolled their eyes at something you did. When that thing that someone else said to you clicked into place.

So when is important.

Because you may have a theory of why something’s changed but the when is a strong indication of the precise action, saying, thing that caused a different reaction to what you have experienced with people before.

New connections seem to happen instantly or quickly. That’s a fairly noticeable when. You spot a post, a share or some kind of action and that when causes a positive connecting reaction.

The diminishment of that connection is perhaps a more gradual thing — unless some seismic scandalous thing happens of course — but there’s still a when even in the gradual “falling out” with someone. The when is a time that you decide “I’ve had enough of them/their ways/their thing”. And you sever the cord.

What is it about that “when” though that causes the severance act?

I guess this entire musing is about our lack of understanding of the when. Because that seems to be the significant thing to focus on for a little longer than we do. When something changes, we see the change but not the when that is part of that change.

What prompted me to think about this was a story someone told me recently about a close connection of theirs. They worked with a really nice collaborator. They had rapport, they had belief in each other and then a gradual distance. Not harmful, just moving in different orbits. And then a total shutdown. No response to messages at all. And then a big rebuttal of an attempted reconciliation. When did it become so distant that it became irreparable? When did they do something that caused such a separation?

OK they didn’t probe this at the time. They left it, as they searched inside themselves for the why but they forgot about the when.

I then helped them search for a symbolic act, a gesture or a failure on their part and we found it.

When they chose to take a path over the future of how their potential collaboration should be, they thought it was understood that this was a better way for the two people at that time. They now realised that wasn’t at all what the other person wanted and that their eventual total severance was a delayed response to that not being seen as fair by them.

When was important. Only at the point we realised when, did my contact realise that was the tipping point. Not the preceding quietness, the bravery to say “let’s just work on our own thing for a while” — that was the when.

And it helped them close that loop. Rationalise their confusing state of where did things go wrong? When was important. In coaching this person, the when really really unlocked their thought process.

So I have been searching for some “whens” in explaining the differences in me, with others, to others, to me. And bizarrely, there’s a coming together of loose ends, of untied threads and of shifts in dynamic I’d been overlooking in some continual pursuit of a bigger why.

A small act. A big act. A shift in focus. An advancement of beliefs. A decision to belong to a certain cause.

When I made some of those calls, it forced some reactions in others that led them away from their previous connection to me and what I do and believe in. I felt the loss and didn’t really know why until I found the when. Other when’s happen to us in our professional endeavours too:

  • When did “the business” suddenly become hostile to HR?
  • When did HR suddenly become more advanced and won over “the business”?
  • When did the CEO come to HR for the advice and guidance she seemed to overlook before?
  • When did the toxic leader suddenly shift and take more responsibility for their actions?
  • When did the coaching client suddenly open up and show what they really wanted from the arrangement?

When is important, it’s leaving big clues about the things we can then do to capitalise on new found wisdom, insight and awareness. Why is still important but can help solidify by knowing when.

So big up to when. We’ve been obsessed with your why, what, how and where compadres for a bit too long. Maybe it’s time for when to be a powerful source of knowing.

When’re you starting to deepen your understanding and use of when?



Perry Timms

CEO PTHR |2x TEDx speaker | Author: Transformational HR + The Energized Workplace | HR Most Influential Thinker 2017–2021 | Soulboy + Northampton Town fan