“Let us make a special effort to stop communicating with each other, so we can have some conversation.”
― Mark Twain
In words that might have sounded something like grunts had he been speaking, the young man’s text was barely decipherable as the English language goes. Seeing a young lady in person after having communicated quite a bit on Twitter showed her apparent inability to speak when not behind a screen. At a time when people seem to be more interested in simply reporting their thoughts than actually sharing ideas, maybe it’s time to do as Twain said and stop communicating (with devices) and only allowing for our own thinking so we can have some conversation.
The art of conversation seems to be lacking in our world of abbreviations and acronyms that can be easily sent in a text or tweet. In a society where we are trying to teach children that they need to work out a solution when they both want the same toy, it seems that many adults have avoided practicing what they preach. A conversation is just a talk, between two or more people, in which news and ideas are exchanged. (Oxford Dictionary) It sounds so simple. Two people enjoying some coffee or maybe an order of nachos, exchanging ideas and news, and coming away still friends and maybe a little wiser. Why, then, is conversation a lost art? Part of the answer might be fear.
Fear seems to drive a lot of the problems in our society: fear of going to the doctor or dentist, fear of death, fear of germs, fear of people who don’t look like we do. It seems to me that fear is also what has kept many from leaving the safety of a text or tweet into the unchartered waters of conversation. What if we disagree? What if you ask me a question I can’t answer, which would make me feel dumb? What if… So many things that could go wrong, but with a few tools, so much could go right.
- Begin with a smile. There is nothing that puts everyone at ease quite like a smile
- Look them in the eye. Don’t look at your phone or the floor.
- Show an interest in the other person. Ask the other person questions about himself. Maybe you ask about the type of shoes he’s wearing or about where she used to live.
- Keep a balance. If you’re doing all of the talking, take a break. If they’ve been kind enough to listen to your ideas, be sure to return the favor — and listen to what they share.
- Have some items in your back pocket. No, you don’t need to have a book of jokes memorized. While sometimes funny, telling jokes doesn’t lend itself to meaningful conversation. This is the only real effort I’m going to suggest you make now that will pay off later: get a little knowledge about a few things that you can share in your next conversation. Pick up a newspaper or read one online to know about a few things happening in your town or the world.
- Don’t demand to be right. As you share (meaning you both get to speak), you might discover that there are ideas you hadn’t considered. It’s ok for them to be right, for you to be wrong, or for everyone to just be a little wiser than they were.
These simple ideas are your tools to help remove much of your fear of a conversation. You might discover that it won’t be so scary the next time you are alone with someone. You never know when your conversation could lead to discovering an employer who thinks you’re just who she needs, or an author who thinks your story should be written. It’s time to take back the art of conversation, to add value to life, and it begins with you.