The Lost Art of Conversation

I love to watch people, especially at restaurants. I like to see groups of people and watch their body language as they egotistical male conversing with a womantalk to each other. Recently, though I find people are too busy checking their phones to really engage with each other.

I’m sure I’m as guilty as the next person. I try to have good communications etiquette, but it’s just so tempting to take a quick peek at my phone, especially if the other party at my table is doing one of those 10 minute “this will just take a second” phone checks. In all honesty, I tend not to make one-on-one engagements twice with someone who does that to me. It’s bad enough in a group, but if I’m sitting there with my thumb up my ass while you comment on your friend’s Facebook post, I will remember that and not the oh-so-stimulating conversation we had about your coupon savings at Randall’s.

Ruminating on these topics has led me to think about conversation in general. I am blessed to have several intelligent and well-spoken friends who also seem to tolerate my own verbal troglodytery. (Yes, they really should all get medals, preferably ones made of chocolate.) I decided to take a look at my friends’ respective methods of communication, and why one conversation can leave me interested, energized, and satisfied, while another can leave me bored, frustrated, and sapped of the will to live. I’ve noticed at group gatherings that a lot of people (including myself) have trouble with the following:

  1. Engage, engage, engage. If your conversation partner doesn’t feel you are really paying attention, s/he may feel that s/he has permission to disengage also.  (S/He may also begin plotting your demise without your noticing.) Use eye contact and verbal cues to let your partner know you are listening or when you are speaking to show you care about his or her thoughts on the subject. Conversation works on a social contract: we cannot expect our conversation partners to live up to their responsibilities if we don’t live up to ours.
  2. Try not to interrupt. This one’s for me (I get excited and blurt! It’s terrible.), but I see it pretty often in others. A lot of times we aren’t aware that we do it. Incidentally, some interruption during a conversation isn’t necessarily bad or a sign of boredom. It can be a sign that the conversation is interesting and people are having a good time. Just try not to be that person all the time. Also, if you find that someone is always interrupting you, it could be a sign that you interrupt people, too. People often mimic the conversational style of the people they talk to. Keep that in mind before you get too critical.
  3. Second-, third-, or fourth-hand experiences are not interesting. I do not want to know about your friend’s trip to Europe unless you went with him. Statements like, “Oh, you’ve been to Italy? My friend said it was nice,” are ok, but don’t spend twenty minutes telling us about all of the stuff your friend said he did in Italy. I’m more likely to be interested in your trip to visit your grandmother who lives across town. “Oh, I’ve never traveled much, but I like to go to <such-and-so-place> an hour away from here. Have you been?” Then you can tell me about all the neat stuff you do there. That would be cool. Maybe we could plan to go there together!
  4. Do not talk about what you did on the internet that day, unless it is somehow relevant. It is tedious and makes other people in the room want to kill you. If you want to exchange Facebook or Twitter info, that’s ok, right? Or if we’re at the Big Ass Twitter Happy Hour (http://tweetvite NULL.com/event/septbathh), it’s kind of a given. But seriously, if you start telling me what this guy did on a forum I don’t follow, or “This one time, on Facebook” stories, I am going to punch you in the face and cover you with bloody mary vomit. Even if I’m not drinking bloody marys. Top that.
  5. Do NOT, and I repeat, do NOT talk repeatedly about Friend A when spending time with Friend B. Are you specifically trying to give the impression that your current situation and the people with you right now are boring the hell out of you? If they are, then go spend time with people who don’t bore you. If you are not trying to give this impression, then stop talking about stuff you did with so-and-so unless, again, it is somehow relevant to the situation. While we’re on the subject, if you and your partner/spouse/pet orangutan have plans later with parties who are not present, please don’t talk to each other about times/places/details in front of people who aren’t invited. It is incredibly rude, and I will lose most of my respect for you in that moment. It’s the conversational equivalent of cutting a huge fart in church.
  6. Shoot for open-ended subjects and questions. I do not mean talk about incendiary topics, like immigration, abortion, gay marriage, or free parking. Something more like, Person A: “You know, I was at this party the other night, and nobody in the room was actually in the room.” Person B: “What? Was it some sort of metaphysical party?” Person A: “Haha! No, silly, although you are clever to suggest so. No, what I meant was that two people were texting, one person was listening to her MP3 player, one guy was on his laptop, and I was stoned out of my mind on black tar heroin! Hey, so, what do you think of the incredible influx of information and cheap hard drugs we have today? Are these factors negatively affecting us as a society?” That last would be an example of an open-ended question.
  7. Avoid Aggressive and/or Inappropriate Communication. What falls under this category? Cursing (yeah, I know, I know, I’m a pottymouth), jokes at the expense of other people/groups and “off color” jokes, too much personal disclosure, incendiary topics (race, politics, religion, sexuality, etc), and criticism of persons present and not present. Now is just not the time to loudly recount your disgusting medical history, make jokes about female body parts or functions, or tell everyone what you really think about your last boss. In fact, doing so can make you seem desperate for attention, completely immature and narrow minded, or two-faced, just to name a few adjectives. Nothing like inappropriate conversation to make everyone suddenly have to go get a drink refill.

I think if we all took a good look at our conversational skills and made an effort to be better communicators, we might find we have more decent conversations with each other. Weird, huh? We wouldn’t have to go to parties and pretend that we have somewhere more important to be by checking our phones every five minutes.

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7 comments to The Lost Art of Conversation

  • Christine Belsom (http://www NULL.facebook NULL.com/christine NULL.belsom)

    HAH, guess that needs work. Oh well, it’s by me, on midnightferret.com. :)

  • NtK

    You leave my orangutan out of this!

  • midnightferret (http://www NULL.midnightferret NULL.com)

    Listen up, Newton, I’m tired of that orangutan’s passive-aggressive behavior coming between us. I’m sure it’s a misunderstanding, but someone has to be the adult, here.

  • Angelica Kraushaar (http://www NULL.facebook NULL.com/profile NULL.php?id=100000072195061)

    I know so many people to whom I want to forward this!

  • Angelica Kraushaar (http://www NULL.facebook NULL.com/profile NULL.php?id=100000072195061)

    i spake anglish good

  • Christine Belsom (http://www NULL.facebook NULL.com/christine NULL.belsom)

    I are a anglush gradiate. Also, I think on my site there are various sorts of “share” buttons — although maybe the one where you email people directly is a little personal 😛

  • Jessica

    I love you! I know sooooo many people that should read this, and many of you articles. And yes I sometimes send this to the people that need it the most. Hugs!

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