Sunday, 21 February 2010

Taking the con out of conversations

Being a good conversationalist is not easy. You may be able to express yourself coherently and fluently, but it takes something else to turn a monologue into a dialogue. Often I see two or more people apparently having a conversation, when in reality it is no more than a collection of monologues which cross paths from time to time. I'm very sensitive to people who are solely interested in what they themselves have to say, and close their ears to everything else.

While watching and participating in conversations, there are a number of conversation faux pas I often see perpetrated. So, here are some tips to avoid these pitfalls in future conversations.

Divide and conquer: When you are talking to a group of persons, make sure you don't address yourself to just one or two of them. People who are being ignored will feel left out or feel they are not being taken seriously, and this will not endear you to them. This applies even, or perhaps especially, to situations where you and one other person do most of the talking. In these situations the tendency is to turn the conversation into a one-two, reducing the other participants to spectators.

Don't say "Yes, but": Really, don't. Nothing says "I'll pretend to agree with what you just said, but what I'm really going to do is ignore it all, and simply state my own opinion" louder than those two words.

Avoid hostile takeovers: You've probably encountered this one: you've just been on holiday to Alaska, and start telling a friend about it. However, three sentences have barely crossed your lips before your friend has taken over the conversation, and is now telling you about his trip to Alaska five years ago. The victim of a hostile takeover will be left unsatisfied with the conversation, and will more likely than not avoid bringing up any but the most superficial topics with you in the future.

Go with the flow: One of the participants in a conversation starts making a response to something that has just been said, but is interrupted by another participant. Then, after the current speaker has finished speaking, the participant turns back the clock and starts making the exact same response, which is now not only hopelessly out of context, but what is even worse, disregards anything said in between. It may be even worse than "Yes, but", which at least keeps up the pretense that you've given some consideration to what's just been said. Under no circumstance use both! Frame your response differently, but whatever you do, don't break the flow of the conversation.

Feel free to ignore any or all of these tips. In that case, though...I'm sorry, did you say something? No, didn't think so.