Disclaimer; Despite the title, the bulk of this writing will not contain any expletives.
I have been thinking of conversations. Having them, starting them, sustaining them, ending them. And not just doing them, but doing them right. Conversations that are not waited on by awkward silences and where gossip is not the main course. Where do I find the secrets to being an awesome conversationalist? Also where do I get the courage to initiate one?
I know the basics, ask lots of questions because people like to talk about themselves. And usually I don’t even consider myself a shy person but the words won’t come out unless someone speaks to me. Not for lack of trying! And not for lack of understanding. Usually I even plan my likely conversations ahead of time. Ask their names, talk about the weather (because that is actually a valid talking point and people will usually have an opinion on that) then hope they steer the rest of the conversation.
But that’s never how it works out. Like today! Attended a family fellowship and there were plenty of people for me to meet. One even sat down next to me and I coached myself, ‘You can do this. Just say hi. What’s your name? Even if you say nothing else at least they will know you are open to conversation.’ I waited enough minutes till we missed our opening and kept to our spaces. (Clearly I’m not the only one who has trouble getting strangers to talk to me).
It goes without too much preamble that conversations are a wild beast to me. Hoping to tame it soon. Yet when you ask me what I like I will tell you I want deep conversations. All I know is that when I’m away from my friends I really want to talk to them, about life and all the seemingly deep thoughts that swim around in my head.
And then we meet and we can’t get the words out. Because I convince myself I don’t want the small talk. And I really don’t. It’s a little hard for me to navigate. And we are left skirting around the edges of everything.
So a few pointers for those that suffer like I do.
As often as you can, have them in person
I tend to believe the best conversations happen in person. I sort of learnt this the hard way. In the thick of the lockdown, some five months ago, I got the not-so-bright idea to ask personal questions via text in hopes of sustaining conversation. It seemed like a great conversation at the time. We weren’t meeting in person and I found myself wondering about a number of things about all these friends. I tried this with a number of friends (I did ask if they were open to it first) . It took off with some and for others it died a miserable death. I seemed to have been the only one invested in it.
So in person it is, especially when the topic is sensitive. Sure there are more chances of your mouth running off with things you don’t intend to say out loud. But then there is the body language. What you can’t read over the texts. Not to mention the real time effect of it. I think there is honesty to it. The comfort of having someone in the space with you as you go through whatever it is. Clearly there is everything in favour of doing having conversations in person.
Have an icebreaker.
Because they are fun! And sometimes you haven’t seen the people you are meeting up with in a while. Do this to test the waters. So they showed up for the meeting, but that says nothing about their mental space. Get a few laughs to get everyone comfortable and remind them how much they enjoy being in your company.
There is a conversation I had based on a book study. When I suggested it, I thought it was a joke and we would meet and talk about something else but we got the book out, went through the questions and I was pleasantly surprised with how much depth they evoked. Now I know books to be great conversations starters, sustainers and enders – the whole shabang.
Give it time to marinate.
When is the right time of any conversation to tell anybody the gritty bits of your life? Do you interrupt their happy vacation account? Do you wait till they ask you a third time what’s been going on with you? What happens if you wait too long and the moment is passed? Because trust and honesty can’t be rushed despite what we want.
But there will be silences. Because I am terrible at remembering titles, there is a book that stated that it is in the silence that depth is born. You have to sit through the silences to learn more but we are becoming a people that doesn’t want to sit silently with someone else. We quickly reach for our phones to give the impression that we have conversation with other people and in so doing distract ourselves from the person right in front of us.
Have a backup plan
This makes it sound like having a conversation is like waging war. Get back to well-worn conversations and go with those if nothing else.
Clearly I’ve have had this on my mind. But I would love to know your take on conversation. Have you ever heard a great conversation that you thought on days after? Ever started up a conversation with a stranger? How did it go? Any tips to great conversation that I have left out?