Wednesday, July 18, 2018

ESSAY: Why a good conversation is hard to find

"You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you." ~Dale Carnegie


Good talk / Cindy La Ferle

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At a local pub recently, my husband and I discussed "the lost art of conversation" with a couple of our closest friends -- the sort of friends with whom we can talk about anything.  

We all puzzled over the fact that, in the past couple of years, we've encountered way too many people who chatter about themselves -- nonstop -- without expressing much interest in the people who are listening. A lot of us are talking at each other, rather than with each other.

What's really going on? My husband's theory is that social media sites foster one-sided communication -- and we've grown accustomed to delivering monologues or posting self-promoting tidbits at all hours of the day and night. Boasting, bragging, and self-promotion are not only acceptable, but encouraged. And, as technology experts and psychologists point out, social media sites are specifically designed to hook us on the rush of dopamine we get each time someone "likes" or comments on our posts and boasts. As if that's not intoxicating enough, we can spill our news (or a deliver a rant) without waiting to see anyone in person. 

On the other hand, genuine conversation is a balanced exchange requiring patience, empathy, and listening skills. A good conversation is not a recital in which one person drones on about herself while the other person nods and applauds. A good conversation leaves everyone feeling heard, understood, and appreciated.  

The give-and-take of good talk

Good conversationalists make socializing a pleasure -- and if you're lucky, you already know a few of them. Here's what they do: 

1) Good conversationalists share details about their lives -- but they always find a way to loop the conversation back to you. For instance, they'll tell you about their recent trip to New England -- but they'll be sure to ask what you've been doing with your free time this summer, too. 

2) Good conversationalists try to learn something new about every person they talk with, including their longtime friends. They'll ask you for an update on how things have been going with your work, a project, your family, your health. They remember that everyone has a vocation or an area of expertise, whether it's gardening, scuba diving, cooking, golf, fashion photography, or pet sitting. 

3) They know that an honest compliment is a great conversation starter -- which requires paying attention to the positive qualities in others. If they run out of topics, they'll resort to books, movies, sports, or TV series. They'll ask you for movie or book recommendations; they'll ask which team you're cheering for; they'll ask about the cool shoes you're wearing. 

4) Good conversationalists don't show off. They know that others are secretly turned off by anyone who tries too hard to impress. If they think someone would be interested in their latest accomplishments, they'll share them in the appropriate context. They never brag or boast.

5) Good conversationalists pay sincere attention to what the other person is saying. They don't wait until it's their turn to insert an opinion. They know that listening carefully opens a window to understanding others, and is an opportunity to learn something new. No wonder others seek out their company. ~Cindy La Ferle

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