A couple of days ago I wrote Why Assuming Is Synonymous With Listening and it’s been on my mind ever since. I think about conversation a lot, mainly because it’s something I’m not naturally good at, something I want to make a conscious effort to improve.
As a topic I feel somewhat polarised by it.
On one hand I’m totally fascinated at how we’ve evolved so many natural communication methods; body language, eye contact, and other small intricacies that our brains just pick up on. That shit’s cool.
On the other hand I’ve got some aggressive opinions on just how bad we’ve become at it. And while I’d like to think that these opinions are well-formed, highly thought out, and based on nothing more than unbiased experience, everyone likes to think that about their own opinions. So maybe I’m wrong.
But the vast majority of my opinions are based on conversations and discussions I have with others. Deep meaningful talks that go to new levels of detail that end up changing how I see things and give me viewpoints I’d not had before. But the unfortunate truth is that it’s rare that I have those good conversations with people.
Instead “conversations” usually end up defaulting back to the same token topics time after time:
“So, hows work going?”
“Did you hear so and so got a new car?”
“Terrible stuff we’re hearing on the news, eh?”
“Can you believe he did X? Uncalled for.”
I’d class this all as “small talk” – just shite to fill the silence between two people doing nothing more than killing time. There’s no real conversation going on here. Neither party is getting any real value from it and, possibly worst of all, neither party is really thinking about the words coming out of their mouth.
I am aware though that small talk has a use – it can play a big part of getting to know someone new and figuring out how to approach those bigger and more difficult topics. Some people aren’t comfortable going right from hello to something as complex as abortion of pregnancies showing signs of fetal abnormalities.
But that’s not what I’ve got a problem with – one of the reasons I’m so intrigued by a good conversation is because it can be about something as simple as the weather, the news, or how work is going.
The thing I do have a problem with though it’s that 99% of the time we’re just running on autopilot. We’re not really present when talking to others and our responses are just automatic phrases that we’ve gotten into the habit of saying. There’s no original thought being added, no honesty behind it, no real emotional connection to the words coming out of our mouths.
I know many of you will struggle to agree with that, but just think for a second about how many times you’ve pulled out your phone when having a conversation with someone else. Taking out your phone, unless looking up a specific fact that came up in the conversation, is a clear sign that you’re not really invested.
And don’t give me that bull shit that you can multitask. We both know that you’d not start browsing Reddit or playing a game during a phone interview, an important conversation in which you try and sell yourself as best as possible. Why? Because you can’t focus on the conversation well enough to do a good job at it if you’re laughing at something on /r/funny. And while I used to be the worst at it (and am still worse than I’d like), I’m not delusional enough to tell myself that it’s ok.
I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve been called out a huge number of times over the last year for being in my own little world and not adding to a conversation. I’m not ashamed because the conversation just sucked and I genuinely find my own thoughts and the environment around me more entertaining than hearing the same meaningless back and forth over and over again. A back and forth that is nothing but automatic responses.
And it’s not like I don’t try, either. I understand that I’m 100% guilty of these issues too, so every time I see it happening I do everything within my power to steer a conversation towards something which will form a meaningful conversation with the other person. I really do try. But if it’s a group that isn’t willing to meet me half way, I can’t help but zone out and start having those conversations with myself. I just can’t stay focused on the same old drivel I’ve heard ten times already today.
All that said, when those conversations do take off, well those are the best I’ve ever had. They are conversations that have changed how I see the world, how I think of my relationship with the other person and the actions I take on a day-to-day basis. These are the conversations that I have with the people I call my friends, the people who I’ll make all the time in the world for.
Right now, I’m far from proud of this post because after well over 3 hours of trying to get my point across, I still don’t feel like I’ve done it effectively. I still don’t feel that I’ve really communicated anything, which is hilariously ironic.
It just feels very much like a negative dump with little findings or actions that you can take from it.
And while it has helped lift a weight off my chest that I never even realised I was carrying, I always try to make these posts as informative, inspiring, or entertaining as possible and I really don’t feel that this ticks any of those boxes.
But I think the topic of conversation is one that is being glossed over far too lightly. One that has people not only running off assumptions, but also letting autopilot take control of far too often.
And until we start addressing those issues, not only are we’re going to end up just feeling more and more alone in the world, but I’m just going to get more and more pissed off. And we can’t be having that, can we?
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