How to Have a Good Conversation


“Old Boy… is it a guy trapped in a room?” “Yeah, yeah, yeah… basically. It has a twist– just wait for the end of it.” It can be painfully rare to end up in a satisfying conversation. A lot of the time, we talk and we listen, but sincere, deep connection eludes us. “Oil, the yeast and pan… it reacts differently and some more healthy or less. I– like, grapeseed oil is actually really… I like that. I mean it’s very…” We shouldn’t blame ourselves for the difficulties we face in conversations. After all, no one ever particularly taught us how to have a conversation, though it might have have helped. “This is the, um, well it’s not the orbital, is it? It’s the other one. [incoherent] Well, there’s people trying to get to work, people trying to get to school, I mean, so– it’s just so stupid.” Too often, when we meet and talk, we stay on the surface of events. We say what happened, where we went, who we saw; not how we felt, or what it meant to us. We talk about facts, not feelings, which are the only conduits to real connection. “… thing– that’s the issue. It’s like when you’re on that platform you see there’s Royston, Natural Garden City, and Welling Garden City. And that’s the thing– a lot of people are there on that platform and they don’t know that they could change your Alexandra Palace…” Or else, we insist rather than explain feelings, thereby failing to get them into other people’s minds. “… like so amazing. I still got like– even thinking of it now, it’s just like… UHHH! Uh… you know the… yeah, you know when you’re kind of… oh, God it was great. Oh, so good.” Typically, we skirt the raw and intense emotions and head for safe, but bland, adminstrative chat. “I used to eat meat… and then, obviously when me and James broke up and I became vegetarian. I’ve found… just absolutely the most amazing recipe book. It’s literally– I don’t know if you’ve seen it and it’s got like– you can replace… sort of the dish that you would have with meat in it…” Or else, we simply can’t keep a conversation on track. We repeatedly, as it were, open new windows, digressing until the thread is lost. “So I was thinking– I was actually thinking of playing poker this weekend with uh… you know, my mates, but I don’t play anymore because I lost a bit of money last year, and I know. There’s just so much to read now… you know what I mean? I’m more interested in reading, if anything… I am going skiing next week, so… I don’t know, it’s not the kind of place you might read but…” The good news is that we can learn to shape others’ conversations rather than just receive them passively. In a dialogue, there are always what one might term, “conversational crossroads,” with paths that lead either to greater intimacy, or else towards ongoing superficiality. Here is one conversational crossroads: “I’m inviting some friends over next week who I haven’t seen since uni.” At this point, you could go in one of two ways. A surface way: “Oh cool, what university did you go to?”
“Manchester.” “Oh, yeah, it’s really fun. Manchester, yeah. My sister went there. What did you study?” “Business.”
“What– what did you do in the second half for?” “Well, I ended up in Events Management, but yeah.”
“I did French.” Or, you could steer things down a more emotional path: “I’m inviting some friends over next week who I haven’t seen since uni.” “Oh my God, it’s like what? 10, 12 years?”
“Yeah, that’s when I fini– got my degree, yeah. “So, I mean, you’ve all completely changed… I mean, you’ve changed.” “Yeah, I guess I have, yeah. I suppose so. Haven’t really thought about it that much.” “What would you think or say– I mean, if you could see you then now?” Good listeners are like good editors: trimming away what’s superfluous, trying gently to get the speaker to focus on what’s really at stake. “And after my mum died, as you can probably guess, there was quite a bit of stress… um. Well uh, not helped by the fact that my favorite football team at the time, Manchester United, was going through a losing streak–” “So, but you were saying that, um, that your parents got divorced and then literally three months later your mum passed away?”
“Yes. It was all quick… quick quick.” “Yeah.”
“Um, but yeah. I’ve got a friend– uh, Dave, um, or David, as he’s called at work, because obviously that’s a bit informal–” “Sorry, but you were saying like it just– like it all happened really quickly and like when your mum went to the hospital you didn’t actually know she was ill before…” The other great surprise about conversations is how much we like it when people show vulnerability. We always think that what we need to do to get other people to like us is to show how well things are going for us. Surprisingly, that’s actually not very appealing. “It’s so well paid, um… and which is great in terms of, you know, now I can afford, you know, to live in Canterbury which is gorgeous and I love my flat, um… so yeah, it’s been really, really positive, actually.” It’s not that we want others to fail; we just need to know that our own sorrows have echoes in the lives of others. That’s what connects us; strength may be impressive, but it’s vulnerability that builds friendships. “Yes, I guess I’ve… missed her every day since then… which is mad because, you know, I’m a grown man now… got a responsible job, got a family, got my own home, but when it comes down to it… I just miss my mum.” It’s so poignant that we make so much effort to come together, but often don’t manage to connect. The good news is, we can learn how to. The connections we long for are just waiting for us to make the right moves, to secure them. We believe in making the world a more emotionally intelligent place, and to that end, we’ve now also published some extraordinary books, as well as other merchandise that reinforces some of the themes illustrated in our videos. Please click on the link below to see more.

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