Do you know how to have a conversation?
How you answer that question depends entirely on your purpose in the conversation.
The purpose of a LOT of conversations I eavesdrop on . . . is emotional reassurance.
Tell me I’m OK. Somebody PLE-E-E-EASE tell me I’m OK. I feel frantic. I can’t cope with life if I’m all alone.
Quiet desperation. (Thanks, Mr Thoreau.)
The conversation makes me feel included. Connected to at least one other human bean, for at least a little while more.
(Totally understandable. Human beans, at their core, are irrational, and emotional. That goes for you too, Robocop. Don’t kid yourself.)
I don’t sense that this kind of conversation is in any danger of disappearing.
The problem is . . . . it can become crack cocaine.
For a tortured soul who realizes that she’s hungry . . . . or he’s sick and in need of medicine.
The Conversation Coke just kicks the can down the road.
Where you will eventually find it again, only now you’re hungrier and sicker. And weaker.
Deep down, you know you’re just hiding. Terrified that everyone will find out the diagnosis of Imposter Syndrome.
(Hint: We’re ALL imposters. The smarter ones among us figure that out early enough, and quit all attempt at pretense.)
So let me ask again:
Do you know how to have a conversation?
Can you sit down with someone, shake their hand (it’s amazing what you learn about someone through a handshake - which of course we can’t do now in this Covid world) . . . .
Look them in the eye . . . . . and hold their gaze . . . .
. . . . And talk about something that Really. Freakin’. Matters?
This costs. But it also rewards.
It’s a skill that’s rapidly disappearing.
That’s why we’re drawn to characters like Jordan Peterson. They can do it.
What’s more, they can have a good conversation with themselves.
Aloud. In front of an audience. Onstage.
And pull that audience in, such that they feel part of it, even though they do no talking.
Jordan Peterson very often doesn’t know where his talk is going when he gets onstage.
Every speech is an experiment. A huge risk.
He could end up embarassing himself. He could lose his train of thought.
He might go down a rabbit hole and realize, he doesn’t know what he thinks!
In fact, that often happens. Watch him. He’ll sometimes stop dead, and stare off into space for an uncomfortably long interval.
Ooh, scary. What do I really think about this? Gee. I dunno.
Pause. Listening . . . . to myself . . .
Querying the Logos . . . .
Do we think any less of him when this happens?
No chance. It only heightens our appreciation for the risk he’s taken.
He’s paying the price. While we reap the benefit.
There’s power in a real conversation. Power that can be used for good or for ill.
Hitler understood this.
I've seen film footage of him walking down a line of soldiers.
Shaking each man’s hand. When he took a man’s hand, he held it firmly.
Half-facing you, half-facing down the line. But his eyes locked onto yours, and held you there. Unblinking.
Sometimes for 30 seconds.
Getting the measure of the man.
His mouth speaks nothing. But his eyes speak volumes.
Who are you?
What makes you tick?
Why are you here?
What makes you get up in the morning?
I’ve great work to do. Are you with me? Do you want your life to really count?
Privilege to meet you.
And on to the next man . . . .
In the space of seconds, and without any words spoken . . . .
A huge, powerful conversation happened.
Many men would recount later . . . .
That they’d never before had an experience like it, nor since.
Hitler’s eyes somehow bored into their souls, and gave them hope. Purpose.
That purpose was evil, and we despise him for it. But hopefully, you get the point:
He knew how to have a very powerful conversation.
Hope, real hope, purpose and good, honest, significant conversation . . . . are bosom buddies. They travel together.
Can you do it?
I’ll be honest here: One of the reasons I write is because I’m not particularly good at it. Yet. Getting better.
Hopefully I'll be able to do it audibly soon.
By writing, I tease out of my soul a measure of truth, and hang it out there for the world to see. And use, or discard, as they see fit.
Conversation is tough.
But there are some simple mind tools that can help. And here they are, in no particular order:
(1) Make your mind up at the END of the conversation, not the beginning
Seek first to understand, and then to be understood. (Much obliged, St. Francis.)
(2) Text, context, sub-text
Listen to what is said, and to what is unsaid. And don’t just listen. Hear them.
There’s a story they’re trying to tell you, only they don’t know how. They’re begging you to read between the lines and feel the unstated pain.
(3) Invite Wisdom and Humility to be unseen partners in the conversation
In some conversations, Outspokenness is a virtue. But not all. Wisdom and Humility will tell you which kind of conversation you’re in.
(4) Invite Repentance and Forgiveness as well
Step on someone’s toes by accident?
‘Fess up. Put it right, right away. People will always cut you slack if you keep short accounts.
(5) Get to the truth, not the victory
This is really just a re-phrase of (1).
The conversation might involve persuasion (I call myself a Persuasion Jedi, after all), but not conquest.
Real conversation is not Zero-Sum. It's not Us vs Them.
It’s a hollow victory that sees you summitting Everest while your mate tumble into the crevasse.
(6) The 80/20 principle applies to conversations
Not all conversations are created equal.
The 80/20 principle means that a few conversations are gold.
Most are not. Some are even time-wasters.
Know the difference. Home in on the gold.
And there’s a corollary to the 80/20 principle, known as the 20/120 principle.
In businesss, it means that 20% of your customers give you 120% of your profit;
60% give you 20%;
and 20% of your customers give you -40% of your profit, ie they actually cost you money.
The 20/120 principle applied to conversations means . . . .
There are some people who are not just time-wasters. They are downright dangerous to you.
They will harm you.
And you need to put as much clear water between you and them as possible. And keep it that way.