There is an important life skill that many of us can improve.
We know how to talk–but not how to have good conversation.
So, why is this so important?
- When you love someone, how do you express it? Most often, it is through conversation.
- When you forgive, or show compassion or friendship?
- When you encourage, compliment, console, support, teach, or mentor?
Relationships are a key part of life, and they are acted out largely through conversation. That is the medium by which we exchange feelings and create and nurture good relationships, but it can also be how we drive people away.
The concept of empathy includes knowing how to relate to and connect with others.
Empathy includes recognizing and responding to what is going on in the other person’s world. When you really connect with someone, and when they look forward to talking to and connecting with you, it sets the foundation for love, forgiveness, compassion, friendship, service, and other positive outcomes to occur.
What People Do Wrong
How are you at conversation?
Do people look forward to talking to you, and do they seem to enjoy it? Or, is there a chance some of them actually prefer to avoid conversation with you, or they sometimes become bored or dissatisfied when they do?
“The trouble with her is that she lacks the power of conversation but not the power of speech.” (George Bernard Shaw)
If you have noticed that people often don’t listen to you, perhaps it is because you:
- Obsess on yourself – You talk only (or mostly) about you, your activities, your kids, your job. Before the other person is done speaking, you have your own story ready to tell, and you can hardly wait for them to stop talking so you can get started.
- Talk too much – Conversations with you are one-sided. You use many more words than you need to make a point or tell a story, and speak much longer at a stretch than a normal person’s attention span wants to handle. You wander from topic to topic in an unconnected way simply so you can keep on talking, and others get bored.
“Most conversations are simply monologues delivered in the presence of a witness.” (Margaret Millar)
What You Can Do Right
If you try, you can learn a more empathetic approach where you:
- Focus on the other person – Give them your total, uninterrupted attention. Listen, really listen, to what the other person is saying. Focus on their situation rather than thinking about your own.
- Have real conversation – Keep the conversation going by responding to their areas of interest rather than jumping to what you want to talk about. Connect with them, on their terms, rather than talking to them.
“A real conversation always contains an invitation. You are inviting another person to reveal herself or himself to you, to tell you who they are or what they want.” (David Whyte)
Stephen Covey captured some of this thinking in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, one of the most read life improvement books of all time:
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. They’re either speaking or preparing to speak. They’re filtering everything through their own paradigms, reading their autobiography into other people’s lives.
When I say empathic listening, I mean listening with intent to understand. I mean seeking first to understand, to really understand. It’s an entirely different paradigm. Empathic (from empathy) listening gets inside another person’s frame of reference.” (Stephen R. Covey)
This discussion is about much more than talking.
It is about how you can use good conversation to form and enhance relationships, which can lead to a richer, more impactful life.
Are you listening?
Question: How good are you at conversation? Would others agree?
Action: Today, have a conversation where you try to really connect with the other person.