Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Quick to Hear

When I was 16, I flew by myself across the country. In between flights, I sat next to a young woman who was also waiting to board the plane, and I asked her, "Where are you headed?" or some other simple question like that. She answered that question, which led to another question (from me), and she just. kept. talking.

When she finally walked away, I sat there, stunned. She'd told me about her parents' gambling problems, details of her relationship with her boyfriend (information even her dad and mom didn't know), assorted other family issues she was dealing with... Basically, I knew as much about her as 20 minutes of her solidly talking could reveal--and she knew only my name.

I'm only in my twenties, and I certainly don't have a firm handle on being a great conversationalist. Even since deciding that I wanted to write on this topic, I started judging myself while I was having conversations with people... and thinking that I seriously need to improve. BUT, still, I think being gracious and unselfish--even in the midst of a conversation--is really important, and I wanted to share with you what I've learned in my experiences thus far in life. (Wow. That sounds so serious!)

1. Ask questions. Try to remember details from your last conversation, so that you can ask them specific questions. "How is your dad feeling?" "How is school coming?" and so on. Be interested in their life! If there's an older couple that you really respect, ask them for their advice on something you're currently dealing with.

2. Listen, listen, listen. Don't ask a question, just so that as soon as they are finished talking, you can answer the question, too. Carefully hear what they're trying to say, and try not to contradict or disagree with them immediately afterwards (unless they said something really terrible).

3. Bring up topics that you know they're interested in. Talk to a baker about pies, not soups--unless he wants to.

4. Everyone loves a good story--especially when it's short and concise. Don't stress out about the insignificant details--like the color of the curtains in your great-aunt's living room (unless you're talking to an interior decorator). Keep the story interesting the whole way through, and keep to the original story. No one likes getting "stuck" talking to a storyteller.

5. Be aware of your surroundings. For example, don't talk loudly in a library. Watch the other people's body language, to sense if they're feeling uncomfortable. If you're talking to a mom with a screaming 2-year-old, pause in your conversation, so the mom can feel at ease taking a moment to comfort/correct her child. If you see someone standing by themselves a few feet away, try to think of ways to include them in the conversation.

To add one more note (pretend this is the P.S.)... I told the girl-in-airport story to Matt a few days ago, and he wisely remarked that you need to be prudent in what you tell people--especially if you don't know them well. If you just won the lottery, you don't need to announce it to every stranger who walks by. ;)

Happy conversing, everyone!

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