“A friend is someone who reaches for your hand, but touches your heart.”
-Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Throughout the holiday season – a period of peak banter – I chatted it up with friends and family, but I also observed and experimented.
You see, a couple months ago, during a professional development workshop at my school, our instructional coach presented on teaching communication. It was framed around core standards to teach students conversational intelligence – e.g. skills for maintaining and building collaborative conversations.
In the age of texting, live conversation is a skill. An art, really.
The teacher shared a poster with eight of the 12 Golden Rules of Conversation:
And I thought geez, I’m a terrible conversationist.
I struggle with interrupting.
I sometimes ask another question before the first one has been answered.
I have a tendency to overshare.
And yet, I can honestly say it’s easy for me to talk to just about, anyone.
For weeks, I bumped these 12 rules around my brain – pinpointing to if and when I use/break them, and read extensively online about conversation savoir-faire.
The advice was at times universal and useful, but often situational.
One such article cautioned, “… you should be careful not to talk too much. This means you should avoid your favorite topic, whether it is yoga or your kid’s soccer tournament.”
I barely have a thought flash before someone – a student, a daughter – interrupts my flow. When I’m talking with someone, I don’t have the mental energy to worry if I’m socially perfect. I just want to connect.
I’ll likely talk about my girls. And probably too much!
Equally, I want to hear about her son’s sleep habits. The nitty gritty.
Here’s where I’ve landed on the rules, and what I want to model to my daughters:
- I want to be mindful in a conversation. My high school English teacher laid out an exercise that has stood with me for twenty years. He gave us a talking prompt: What makes you unique? He allotted us one minute to prepare our answer, and then instructed us to let it go … until it was our turn to talk. Our job was to focus on our classmates’ responses, ask insightful questions, and not wait for the conversational trigger to transition talk back to us.
- I want to follow my instincts. It’s time to ditch the rules and follow our hearts’ pulls, which intuitively wants (needs) to connect with other humans. Focus on each other. Ask. Share. Get derailed, messy even. We are social beings. During the back-and-forth of conversation, interruptions and disputes happen. In telling a joke, an exaggeration is spot on. Rules are meant as a guide, and often meant to be broken. Go with the flow of the conversation.
- I want to connect. Maybe it’s time to loosen the cultural protocols that keep conversations light and superficial. If I’m honest, I want to spend my time at heart of the matter, and participating in deep conversations. Connecting creates meaning, which in turn, unleashes lasting happiness in me. And you.
- I want to roll with it. When you’re with a group, listen and observe how people are reacting to the conversation. Are they engaged, or are they itching for a new topic? Is it time to up the ante from small talk to a meatier course, or time to lighten the mood with some humor?
- I want to grow. It’s time to step aside from the perfectionist mindset – follow this rule and that rule – and develop a growth mindset, an intentional mindset. Ask yourself: Who will I be speaking with today and what are the conversations with these people that matter most?
- But, if you like rules (I do!), just pick one. Avoid this, careful not to, try this … thinking about all the Rules of Conversation, makes me clam up and avoid conversation. I will muck it up. If you want some guideposts, pick one rule and try it on for size. To make a lasting improvement, the brain can only focus on one or two ideas. Maybe three. I am working on waiting for an answer before launching another question. It’s a bad habit. What about you?
- Lastly, I want to be me. It’s important to know yourself. What kinds of conversations do you want to have? If you start with yourself and know you are coming from place of authenticity, go with that. If you want small talk, have small talk. If you want to giggle, go with that. If you want to share thoughts, oddities, quirks, pains, noticings, go with that. Being unnatural is off, and not a good time. I want to have fun.
My takeaway: Be present, and don’t hammer down the Rules of Conversation on your inner beauty.
Let yourself shine!
P.S. Do you have a line ready when you want a conversation to end?
Ciao for now.