Conversations seem like something so obvious, when in reality they’re a very delicate aspect of human interactions that isn’t easy to get right—and can easily become very irritating to take part in.
For instance, I recently went for a coffee with a friend; she was upset over some squabble with a friend of hers and needed to vent. I felt glad, at first, she’d chosen me as confident, and was willing to be as helpful as I could. We sat down, ordered our coffees, and as she started exposing her anguish—mostly a dispute over a guy; jealousy, resentment, all the main topics found in the Girl Fight 101 guidebook—I realized that she wasn’t really asking for my advice, and didn’t care for it. By that time, her coffee was probably iced—it had been at least forty minutes and I still hadn’t gotten a chance to speak. She just wanted to talk, probably the same speech she’d given just about anyone of her friends, to be reassured she was in the right and the other girl was just a stone-cold bitch. Every time—and there weren’t many occasions—I tried to suggest something, or offer some wisdom, she either ignored or dismissed it.
This encounter left me feeling extremely frustrated; I realized my role in the friendship was to be a sponge that would absorb frustration, without having any part in the solution of the problem. But why; was I not qualified enough? Or did she simply not care about solving it, she just needed to feel validated?
If it’s true what they say, that being a good listener is a real skill, it’s also true that it takes a lot of effort to be a good talker: knowing when to pause, when to speak, and what words to use—how much to implicate the listener in your story, when to let them chime in and make them feel heard.
That’s when I started thinking of how complex it is to have a conversation that isn’t just a gigantic monologue, where the other person doesn’t get a chance to speak or interject. I have noticed I tend to do the same, turning many conversations into rants and dismissing the input of others because I figure I know best. If it’s true what they say, that being a good listener is a real skill, it’s also true that it takes a lot of effort to be a good talker: knowing when to pause, when to speak, and what words to use—how much to implicate the listener in your story, when to let them chime in and make them feel heard.
Ever since that encounter, I have started to make an effort to monitor the way I speak, and to stop myself from becoming overwhelmingly self-involved, ask more questions to the person sitting in front of me so as to make them feel part of it; otherwise, I can feel them drifting off into a cozy slumber, “hmmm”-ing and “aaaah”-ing their way through the end of the logorrhea. I also made the gigantic effort to fake any kind of interest for advice I deem to be rather banal or silly; instead of arching an eyebrow and scoffing, I will smile and say it’s a good idea even though I’m fairly certain my puppy-dog could have suggested me the same. I have realized that my interactions have become richer ever since I have started doing that exercise.
It seems silly, but yes; even talking to others is something that takes practice and skill; like that yoga pose you just can’t get right even though others make it look so easy—I mean, why doesn’t bending your body in bizarre angles come so naturally? —, you need to see what you’re doing wrong in order to fix it.