“Have you ever got offended by someone on Facebook or Instagram just because they said something offensive about politics, religion, and childcare or food habit?”
It is a very common question to today’s social media using generation and the answer is – “yes” in most cases.
Back in the days, it used to be that if you want to have a polite conversation, you would just have to follow the advice of Henry Higgins in “My Fair Lady” -“Stick to the weather and your health.”
But these days, with climate change and anti- vaccine— those subjects are not safe either. So, this world that we live in, every conversation has a potential to develop into an argument. Where our politicians cannot speak to each other and where even the most trivial of issues have someone fighting passionately both for it and against it.
A very recent research with 10,000 adults in North America shows that at this moment we are more polarized, we are more divided than we ever have been in history. We are less likely to compromise, which means we are not listening to each other. And we are making decisions like where we live, who to marry and even who our friends are going to be based on what we already believe. Again that means, we are not listening to each other. A conversation requires a balance between talking and listening and somewhere along the way we lost that balance.
According to another research, about a third of North American teenagers send more than a 100 texts a day and most of them are more likely to text their friends than they are to talk to them face to face.
There is this great essay on “The Atlantic” which was written by a high school teacher named Paul Burnwell and he gave his kids a communication project to teach them how to speak on-a specific subject without using a note and he said –
“I came to realize, that conversational competence might be the single most overlooked skills we fail to teach. Kids spend hours each day engaging with ideas and exchanging them through screens, but rarely they have an opportunity to own their interpersonal communication skills.”
So, the best ways to have a meaningful, memorable and interesting conversations are –
Do not multitask.
It doesn’t mean just to put down your device or your car keys to free your hand. It actually means to be present. Be in that particular moment. Don’t be thinking about the argument you had with your husband or what are going to eat for dinner. If you want to get out of the conversation- please do. But don’t be half in it and half out of it.
Do not pontificate.
If you want to state your opinion without any opportunity to response or argument or push back or growth – you should write a blog. If you always have a certain opinion you are a pontificator and you are totally predictable. You need to enter every conversation assuming that you have something to learn. You should be open towards the new ideas.
You need to enter every conversation assuming you have got something to learn. The famous therapist Abscott Pegg said-
“True listening requires a setting aside of oneself. And sometimes that means setting aside your personal opinion- sensing the acceptance, the speaker will become less and less vulnerable and more and more likely to open up the inner recess of his/her mind into the listener.Everyone you will ever meet knows something that you don’t. Everybody is expert in something.”
Use open ended questions
Start your questions with Who, What, Where, When,Why and How. If you put in a complicated question , you are going to get a simple answer out. If I ask you
Were you terrified?
You are going to respond to the most powerful word in that sentence which is “TERRIFIED” and the answer would be either
“Yes, I was.”
“No, I was not.”
Let them describe it. They are the ones that know. Try asking them things like
“How did it feel?”
Because then they might have to stop for a moment and think about it. And you are going to get a much more interesting response.
Go with the flow.
That means thoughts will come into your mind and you need to let them go out of your mind. We have heard interviews often. In which a guest is talking for several minutes and then the host comes back and asks the question which seems like it comes out of nowhere. Or it has already been answered. That means the host probably was not listening 2 minutes ago because he thought of this really clever question and he was just bound in determination to say that and we do the exact same thing. We are sitting there and having a conversation with someone and then we remember that time we met Justin Bieber in a coffee store. And we stop listening. Stories and ideas are going to come to you and you need to let them come and let them go.
If you do not know, say that you do not know.
Now people on the radio are much more aware that they are going on the record. And so that they are more careful about what they are claim to be expert in and what they claim to know for sure. They are on the side of caution. The “talk” should not be cheap.
Do not equate their experience with yours.
If they are talking about having lost a family member don’t start talking about the time you have lost a family member. If they are talking about the trouble at work don’t start talking about your work troubles and how much do you hate your job. It’s not the same. It is NEVER the same. All experiences are individual. And more importantly it is not about you. You don’t need to take the moment to prove how amazing you are, or how much you have suffered.
Somebody asked to the famous physicist Stephen Hawking-
“How much is your IQ?”
And he said-
“I have no idea; people who brag about their IQs are losers.”
Conversations are not promotional opportunities.
Try not to repeat yourself.
It’s condescending and it is really boring and we tend to do it a lot. Specially in work conversation or in conversations with children. We have a point to make so we just keep rephrasing it over and over. Don’t do that.
Stay cut of the weeds.
Frankly, people don’t care the years, names, dates all those details that you are struggling to come up with in your mind. They don’t care. What they care about is “you”. They care about what “you” are like. What “you” have in common with them. So, forget the details and leave them out.
I cannot tell you how many really important people have said that. Listening is perhaps -the number one most important skill that you can develop. Buddha said-
“If your mouth is open you are not learning.”
And Calvin Coolidge said-
“No man ever listened his way out of a job.”
Why do we not listen to each other? Because-
We would rather talk. What I am talking, I’m in control. I don’t have to hear anything I am not interested in. I am the center of attention. I can booster my own identity. But there is another reason we get destructed. The average person talks in about 225 words per minute. But we can listen to up to 500 words per minute. So, our minds are filling up those 275 words per minute. It takes effort and energy to actually pay attention to someone. But if you cannot do that you are not in a conversation. You are just 2 people shouting out barely related sentences at the same place. You have to listen to one another.
Steven Kuvy said it beautifully-
“Most of us do not listen with the intention of understanding; they listen with an intention to reply.”
So, to rephrase it – Very rare people actually listen to understand the content. And for the example of a great listener, was our president Bill Clinton.
In a social setting, we should talk about one subject as long as it is interesting to both parties involved. Keep it short and keep it sweet and then move on to the next chapter.
All of these point out to the same basic concept-
Be interested in other people.
My father loved to entertain many people at home. So, growing up, I saw many people coming over to talk to my father and listen to him talk and sing. As they would leave my mother would come with great excitement and ask us –
“Do you know who that was?” And she would tell us with great pride that he is the owner of this big multinational company, or she is the CEO of this shipping company or He is the most popular singer of the country. And I kind of grew up assuming everyone has some hidden amazing thing about them and honestly I think it makes me a better host. I keep my mouth shut as often as I possibly can when it comes to listening to the other person. I try to keep my mind open and I am always prepared to be amazed and I am never disappointed. You do the same thing Go out and talk to people listen to them and most importantly be prepared to be amazed.