Conversation Matters

In a day of political posturing and a blitz of media “chatter” what does it mean to have a great conversation?

It all depends of course on one’s definition of conversation. Here the acid test is that

no matter the topic, one experiences an intellectually stimulating and emotionally satisfying dialog in the context of mutual trust and respect. 

Let’s look at the contrast between the worst and the best in conversation styles.

The Substitutes

Many people mistake the sheer volume of talk with conversation. However the fool’s gold of conversation is seen in

  1. People who just want you for an audience. They talk “at” you. The rule, “listen to me but I’m not really interested in you” is not a conversation. It is a monologue by a narcissist or political demagogue. Worse still, there can be a basic disdain for others or a driving need to be superior.
  2. Those who have mastered the art of superficial interaction which some mistake for genuine connection. Scratch below the surface of the “small talk” and get behind the façade of “friendliness” and you will find little substance to the person or conversation
  3. Clever repartee where the parties compete to be “the smartest kid on the block”.This zero sum game results in winners and losers and, in the end, there is no real connection with others.

Now contrast the above with

The Real Thing

Genuine conversation is characterized by

  1. A dialogue where both parties contribute equally and listen intently. No one person dominates the conversation. He/she patiently listens to the other without interrupting or restlessly wanting to inject their point of view.
  2. A person characterized by a generous spirit, open mind, and loving heart. These people are continually searching for the good in others and ways to validate the other person’s point of view.
  3. A flow of dialogue that includes both point and counterpoint. A good conversationalist is not just a “yes” person but can freely offer contrary opinions without retreating into hostility or hardened personal or political opinions. At the core they have a teachable spirit and are willing to change their point of view as new facts emerge in the conversation.
  4.  People who have widely embraced different cultures where they see themselves as perpetual students and can celebrate differences and recognize similarities.
  5. A climate of safety and mutual respect and acceptance. Trust is not something that one requests but earns with the expression of the content of one’s good character. 

Don’t you get the sense that conversation is becoming a lost art in the public forum?


About cedricj

I am a licensed psychologist and management consultant and have always been intrigued by how leaders can inspire people in their organizations. The bottom line is that people are not always motivated by material rewards, the use of the carrot or the stick, fear and intimidation,and command and control, Five human needs inspire and drive us. Kristine S MacKain, Ph.D and myself describe these inspirational forces in our book "What Inspirational Leaders Do" (Kindle 2008)
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2 Responses to Conversation Matters

  1. So true Cedric, a lost art indeed. Along with a few other lost arts like good manners, sadly. Is part of it because social media encourage us to transmit all the time (twitter being the worst culprit – a cacophony of noise in which you have to shout loud and often in order to be heard)?

    Listening is the hardest part, and I know I am bad at it. Bad listeners can be boring, and that too I know.

  2. cedricj says:

    In the understated term used by Brits, you can’t be a half-bad listener with a successful consulting business like yours. Thanks for the comment

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