Let's really talk
I recently invited a young couple over to our place for a chat. "You
mean - just to talk?" the young lady said, eyes wide in horror, "Let's
go and see a musical show!"
Pic courtesy – google images
While the strobes flickered to the music and the group screaming from
their highest pitch, and we all cheered and clapped like agitated
protons, I wondered, what's wrong with just talking? It's an honourable
human activity, isn't it?
Since then, I have been listening to people talk, and I am appalled.
Lively communication is a goner. Today all we can muster is a somnolent
mumble. Or a yakety-yak, which is to communication what a hot dog is to
haute cuisine. Who are the culprits? TV is one. I have heard sane adults
argue that TV talk shows are reviving the art of conversation.
Balderdash! Conversation isn't something you watch; it is something you
do. People pitch into build a good conversation the way they used to sew
a patchwork quilt or build a shed.
But TV is not solely to blame. We like to buy our entertainment
already packaged. Not that anything is wrong with movies, concerts,
dramas or other entertainment, but we seem to have lost the knack of
swapping thoughts with live humans. Driving home from the drama, I asked
the young couple, "What do you think about it?" The husband said, "it
was OK." The wife replied, "No complaints." So much for that
We gabble about our kids' cuteness, about what we are having for
dinner, about the status of our sore knee. And if you would like an
example, take me. The other day I found myself treating my nephew with a
monologue on the current political situation of the country. That was
"boomerang talk" - sending out words so they will circle back. We are
too busy talking to ourselves, about ourselves, to notice that everyone
else in the room was snoozing.
Years ago, when the LTTE war was raging, I was at a dinner. Somehow,
I began to discuss the war with a stranger. Our opinions were poles
apart, and the discussion quickly escalated into argument. Later I came
to know that the stranger was a worried man with a 23-year old son,
stationed in the North and fighting against the LTTE. He had his own
reasons for his belief. After that event never again could I
automatically assume that people whose opinions I despise are
despicable. Conversation makes us look at each other.
Tact and diplomacy are methods used to aid effective communication,
especially when attempting to be persuasive or assertive. Using tact and
diplomacy appropriately can lead to improved relationships with other
people and are a way to build and develop mutual respect, which in turn
can lead to more successful outcomes and less difficult or stressful
Tact and diplomacy are skills centred round an understanding of other
people and being sensitive to their opinions, beliefs, ideas and
feelings. Effective use of such skills comes from being able to sense
accurately what another person is feeling or thinking at any given time
and then responding in such a way as to avoid bad feelings or
awkwardness, whilst at the same time, asserting or reflecting your own
ideas and feelings back in a delicate and well-meaning fashion.
Of course, it is not all fireworks. When I was in University in
India, a few of us would walk miles along country roads at late evening,
talking about everything from the meaning of life to wonders of Marilyn
Monroe to Morris minor to Mercedes Benz. We just enjoyed one another's
It's often said that there are two kinds of people in the world:
those who are right, and those who think they are right. In other words,
everyone has an opinion. Given the opportunity, there are very few of us
who would hesitate to throw in our two cents. But imposing ourselves in
this way is more an exercise in ego than anything else, and that
imposition of ego not only limits us, but deflects the opportunity for
Let me give you a simple exercise: when you need to interact with
another person do you ask to 'speak to them' or 'speak with them?' This
subtle shift in perspective can markedly change the quality of that
It moves the interchange from one of control to one of collaboration.
Speaking 'with' demands space, and that is where listening comes in.
Listening is the means for creating that space, expanding the tone and
texture of a conversation. It also gets us out of the way, which is
important because within the context of authentic social interchange, it
is often we who are the greatest obstacle. Another aspect of listening
is asking questions. Very often we fail to ask simple questions and
leave others feeling like they are not being heard. Not asking questions
is very much like imposing ourselves because we are being presumptive
about another person's needs or wishes, rather than making an effort to
establish them as they really are.
Lastly, we need to hear the other person. This is something that is
both symbolic and concrete. We do need to hold space, hold our tongue
and genuinely listen, but we also need to suspend our need to impose
ourselves so the other person has the space to interject their needs in
a tangible way. If, then, the person with whom we are speaking is also
listening, an authentic interchange ensues.
All of my life's high points, it seems, were good conversations.
Suddenly the talk takes an unexpected turn and doors open for me Maybe
it's not the subject that makes a conversation click, but the vitality.
And maybe to start one, all we have to do is to break through the
"me-barrier" - go potholing in other people's thoughts.