Three Terrible Mistakes in Conversation
Most people think they are good at conversation. Most people are not good at conversation. Nearly everyone could be better at conversation.
Several years ago, I began writing a book about conversation: patterns in conversation, habits in conversation, motivations in conversation, the entire psychology of conversation. Having gotten halfway through writing the book, I began to notice a distinct pattern; whenever I mentioned that I was writing a book about conversation, the other people in the conversation suddenly became much better at conversation.
Most people are as bad as they are in conversation mainly because of a lack of awareness, and a lack of effort. We don’t have to be such slobs with each other. There is a better way.
In the spirit of promoting greater awareness and greater grace in our relations with each other, I present the following three terrible mistakes in conversation, all of which are common. You probably commit at least two of them frequently. Very few people commit none of them.
Get it straight. The conversation isn’t about you. What someone else just said isn’t about you. Listening to another person shouldn’t be about listening for opportunities to talk about yourself…again. Don’t use your interactions with other people as a way to pay even more attention to yourself.
Use your interactions to enhance awareness for everyone, including yourself. Use your interactions for the greater good. Use your interactions to create new and better opportunities for all of us. Use your interactions to help humanity to finally advance beyond its current sorry state.
#2: Pointless associations
What someone just said triggered an association in your mind, so you immediately start blabbing about the random association that happened to fire off in that mind of yours.
Is the association useful? Does the association further the conversation? Has it ever occurred to you that this random association of yours means absolute nothing to the other person, and you just derailed what might have been a wonderful conversation?
Don’t indulge your random associations, of which you have many thousands, nearly all of which are pointless or worse. Watch them fire off, and then ignore them, unless one of them just happens to be truly useful at that very moment, with that very person. If you happen to have an inspiring and truly helpful association, by all means speak.
Otherwise, please keep the random mental junk to yourself. Thanks.
#3: Enforcement of clichés
Are you a member of the cliché enforcement police? When you hear a phrase that deviates slightly from a standard phrase, do you step in to “correct” the other person, by reasserting the official cliché? God forbid what might happen if people started using language to convey original meaning instead of enforcement of socially determined patterns of outlook and attitude and belief.
Yet perhaps your partner in conversation actually has a new and wonderful idea, or is deliberately and intentionally using a phrase that embodies a meaning that is not familiar to you. Perhaps your partner in conversation is inviting you to awareness of a new observation, or a new outlook. Perhaps your partner in conversation is signally to you that they are actually conscious, and not a linguistic automaton. What a terrifying prospect. Yet still…
Set your fear aside, and then take your cliché enforcement police badge and turn it in to your local cliché enforcement police station, along with your resignation. Slam that badge down on the counter, and yell “I resign!” Then storm out of the building, because you are now officially an enhanced awareness agent, an agent of creativity and courage and brilliantly devised and wonderfully generative new practices in conversation, which you intend to happily share with all the world.
Congratulations, and welcome to a very small but absolutely wonderful club!