Good Conversation Is An Inside Job

A good friend and colleague told me recently how reading my book, Talk Matters!, inspired him to reflect on his inner workings and how he interacts with others in his various roles as an experienced manager and member of several boards. I, of course, appreciated his taking my words to heart. It also got me to thinking that the essence of good conversation might primarily be an inside job.

Despite years of teaching communication and facilitation skills, I notice that the people who are the most effective in interacting with others aren’t necessarily the ones who are the most skilled. Certainly, skills help enormously, but those who seem to make the biggest and most positive difference are the ones who are curious and open to disparate views, who remain calm when things get turbulent, and who listen attentively and with kindness.

Curiosity, calm and kindness are infectious. They can prevent a conversation from becoming destructive and turn it into a constructive one when it is on the verge of becoming vitriolic. The doorway to these qualities opens when we stay in caring connection with ourselves and with others, even when we want to pull away.

It is when we disconnect that we tend to turn others into objects or “the other.” However, if we are aware of what is going on inside, we can make a conscious choice to be in relationship with the people with whom we are talking. We can notice the fear, anger, or annoyance, and choose to continue to relate by restating what we are hearing, asking questions of genuine curiosity, or simply staying calm and silent, allowing space for others to talk.

Whatever we are aware of, we are not lost in or driven by. When we are aware, we can make a conscious choice to continue to relate to ourselves and others with kindness. This does not mean we will always agree. It does mean we don’t have to turn those with whom we disagree into an object or an enemy.

The key is being aware and awareness takes practice. One important resource is our body sensations. What are your early warning signs that you are about to distance yourself from others either by arguing or playing possum? Increased heart rate? Tightened fists or shoulders? Tunnel vision? Rapid breathing? Whatever your signs are, notice them without judgment and then ask yourself, “What can I do to stay in connection with myself and others right now?”

Mary’s book “Talk Matters! Saving the World One Word at a Time” is now available.  Click here to purchase it.

2 thoughts on “Good Conversation Is An Inside Job

  1. Thanks, Mary. The timing of this was excellent in helping me think through an interaction I had just yesterday in a verbal conflict with one of my brothers. I am working on this practice of staying present, but sometimes the timing of what is said that might distress me, that is the complete unexpectedness of it, catches me off guard and I find myself reacting. I did that yesterday, and I didn’t choose to stay engaged, so I left. It was the type of moment that I could spend all day, or even days, rerunning in my head. I didn’t. I worked on breathing and was able to let it go. I must go back to my brother and work it out, but it’s not hanging over my head. Peace, Ashton

  2. Hello Ashton. I am happy that the article was “perfect timing”. You phrased it well by calling it a practice. This kind of practice gets easier over time, but it absolutely is a lifelong practice. Best of luck with your brother. Thanks for stopping by the blog.

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