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The Lost Art of Conversation

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I want you to think back to your last social situation. Last conversation. Chances are you won’t remember much, as most conversations in those scenarios are fairly superficial. We ask each other how we are, we all say “I’m fine” and we move on. But are we all fine and dandy? Or do we simply feel that those situations are not appropriate for deeper conversations?

The fact is, we are more disconnected than ever before. Social functions are often like a constant popularity contest. You went to Mexico? Oh yes, I went once… You had the flu? Oh yes my auntie can’t shake it off either… You’re having issues at work?…Yes my boss is annoying too. Your dog is cute, yes, but I have a zillion pictures of my pet tortoise, look! The interruption that normally begins with ” Yeah, it’s like ME” is one of the most common ways of hijacking the conversation. It goes on. Who can get more words in? Who can shine more? Who turns everything into a joke? Who knows it all, has been everywhere, done everything? Or just likes the sound of their own voice?

If you are one of the culprits, chances are that you would justify this by saying that you are building affinity – by saying “yeah, me too” you are making the other person feel understood. Which is fine if at that point you don’t actually turn entire conversation to you – but many people do.

And this is not the case just with social situations. Many people will now spend more time at work, than at home. So the perfunctory exchanges between people are now the norm.

It means we ALL lose out. There is no real depth.

Of course, this is not the case for absolutely everyone. I know many people, especially women who are excellent listeners, and will give a listening ear to anyone that comes their way. The problem is that unless clear boundaries are set, this often doesn’t end well. Energy vampires take your time, transfer all of their negativity to you, and completely ignore your input. And if you start sharing your stuff, they will make their excuses and leave. A prolonged period of being on the receiving end of monologues, and never getting a chance to be heard yourself, doesn’t make you feel good. You end up feeling more lonely than ever, because you feel like no one cares about you.

So how do we change this? How do we start having real conversations again?

The ones where no one is competing, trying to grab the limelight, to fix, to push their opinion, but to REALLY tune in to the other person? The ones where it’s a dialogue and not a monologue?

Next time you go out socially, choose to people watch rather than get involved. Take note of the dynamics in a group – who’s the spotlight person? Who’s the care taker? Who’s the one who always has the same stories? Who is the one who demands attention and who is the interrupter? And how are you feeling while it all goes on?

Now try and tell a story about something that matters to you, and see how long people stay with you. How long before you hear “Yeah, it’s like me”! Did you manage to get to the end of your story? Was anyone emphathetic? Did anyone ask you questions? Did you feel heard, and understood? Did people get impatient, break eye contact, look disinterested? Did anyone actually connect with you, and did a proper conversation develop?

If the answer is yes, then you are lucky. It is a rare thing these days. Most likely the answer will be no. In that moment, make a note – what did it FEEL like for you?

It’s very likely that you will also notice yourself dying to interrupt other peoples conversations, with something of your own. If not a story then maybe an opinion, a fix or a judgment. Keep observing yourself and others. Once you start noticing this, I promise you it will be impossible to ignore. We all do this at times, somtimes subconciously.

So back to the question – how can we stop this from happening?

Here are 5 things you can do, to make someone truly feel heard –

1.When someone starts a conversation

Listen intently . That means keeping good eye contact, open body language, and being present ( yes that means not checking your phone while they talk).

2.Tune in

To what they are saying, and don’t start wandering off in your head. Remember what it feels like to you, when you speak, and somone looks disinterested, or disengaged.

3.Reflect back

When possible repeat back what they said to show you are listening , or clarify understanding ” So are you saying that your wife is annoyed because….” but don’t interrupt for the sake of it.

4. Be curious, and ask open questions

Once they are finished, ask a question back to show the person you really got the essence of what they are saying. For example ” It feels to me like you are really pissed off with this situation. What would you like to see happen?” or ” I really feel your pain, that must be difficult. What are the next steps for you?”

5. Try not to bring this back to you.

If you do have a story, or knowledge that will actually help them then do share it, without making them feel like their ” bit” is over. You could say ” I had a similar situation in the past, I would like to share the outcome with you, as I think it would help. Would you like to hear it?” When finished, ask them “What do you think” to give them a chance to go back to their conversation.

Essentially, it’s about giving the other person a bit of space. A bit of space to speak, to think, to feel. And most importantly get perspective. Without the fear of being interrupted or dismissed. I’m not saying that every conversation has to be deep. Fun is ok too.

And when you are done, then maybe follow up with a statement like ” I really enjoyed talking to you” or ” That was a really interesting, thank you”.

At this stage you may think, hang on, what about me here, when do I get to speak? Be patient, grasshopper.

Slowing down is key here. Keep working on your listening skills, and making others feel heard and understood. This doesn’t mean you won’t get your chance. But it may not be easy – and just because you may be on this journey, it doesn’t mean that others are.

Once you start working on yourself, chances are that others will start seeing the change in you. And if they don’t, and it turns out they have no interest in you at all…then it’s time to ask yourself, if maybe you have outgrown that social circle?

Noticing the flow of conversation, will make you better at it yourself. It will also help you work out who are the energy vampires around you – the people that leave you drained and overwhelmed. That way, you can start putting some boundaries in place.

We all crave to be heard, understood, and connected to the world around us. Surrounding yourself with people that both give, and not just take, will ensure that you don’t feel like a spectator. Connection works both ways.

“We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him.” 

Mahatma Gandhi

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ABOUT Maria

Maria is a Therapeutic Life Coach, Business Coach, Photographer & free spirit. Multi passionate, logical, creative, and an extrovert introvert. Fascinated by people, psychology and most at home by the sea. Foodie & dog lover.

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