Have you ever played the game The Sims? Remember how when two people are talking for a while you start to earn points on your relationship meter? That’s how real life is, only not. Talking to another person can be a magical thing. It can make you feel more alive and connected. Almost any conversation can be an enjoyable, beautiful thing that changes both of your lives for the better. You have the ability to take it to this place. You also have the ability to crush all the joy out of a conversation and put everyone in a grouchy, aggressive mood. Which one do you prefer?
Rules of conversation can vary slightly based on the degree of rapport you already have with a person. A conversation with a stranger or roommate might be a lot different than a conversation with your best friend. Regardless of whom you are speaking with, it can’t hurt to keep in mind these Invisible Ethics of Conversations:
1) When someone else is talking, focus on “What is this person really saying?” rather than, “What do I want to say in response to this?” While sometimes it is appropriate to share a story in response to someone else’s story, it is not okay to interrupt their story to do so. This might be a really hard concept to accept, but the world does not revolve around you. People are not necessarily fascinated with everything you have to say.
2) When you ask a question, give the person a chance to response. Don’t interrupt their answer to bring it right back to you. Give them a moment to think. Silence is okay. Take a deep breath and wait patiently for an answer. Do not ask a question just because you really want an excuse to answer it yourself. YOU ARE NOT THAT COOL. STOP IT.
3) Try to give all parties involved an even amount of talking time. Shoot for 50/50 or 60/40. Once you get to the 80/20, 90/10 or god forbid 100/0, this is no longer considered a “conversation” but becomes “ranting” or “venting.” I know they both having the same root ending, but a monologue is not a dialogue. Unless you began this social interaction with the understanding that you were going to dominate the air space, there is no excuse for your selfish behavior. Make the world a better place and please just stop doing that.
3) Be aware of your agenda when talking — Are you trying to build a relationship? Offer someone advice? Gain information? Vent about something bothering you? Impress someone? Once you identify your agenda, make sure your behaviors are congruent with your goal. IF you are trying to impress someone, be aware that talking about yourself and your great qualities can actually hurt your relationship and backfire on you by making you look like a tool. Learn the phrase, “Show, don’t tell” to remind yourself to demonstrate your qualities versus talking about them. Don’t tell someone, “I’m a fun guy” but actually do something that brings enjoyment to others so they can see how fun you are. Especially when meeting someone for the first time, there is nothing more annoying that screams insecurity than a long drawn-out story highlighting how awesome you are. The best response to this type of story is a, “Yeah you’re really cool” and then walk away.
4) Learn active listening responses like:
a. Reflection: “It sounds like… you were really feeling [emotion] about this.”
b. Summarization/Paraphrasing: “So you’re saying that…. ?”
c. Ask open-ended questions: “What did you mean when you said….?” or “What was it like to… ?”
5) Pay attention. Look at the person talking. Smile, nod, make eye contact, notice what’s going on with both of your body languages and adjust accordingly. Unless you are expecting an emergency, do not pick up phone calls or answer texts. That is equivalent to abruptly interrupting your conversation to start talking to the random guy next to you. Most phone communication can wait 10 minutes. Having a phone is not an automatic excuse to be rude.
6) Learn to fight fair. If you disagree with something the other person is saying, understand that everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion. You are probably not going to change someone else’s mind. The best you can hope for is a shared respect of each other’s viewpoints. Do not state your own opinion as fact (unless in the rare case that it is), but rather, “I feel that….” Or “Hmm, I can see how you would think that. My take on the matter is…” Unless this is a debate club, you are not going to get a prize for being right. Rethink your agenda: Is your focus to build a relationship, or build your ego? Sometimes it is very fun and enjoyable to argue when done in a fair, friendly way. Sometimes it is just abrasive and obnoxious. If you are arguing just to have another excuse to dominate the conversation, stop it.
Have I missed anything? Please let me know in the comments below!