Honest Living: The Art of Conversation
I used to worry incessantly about what to say to others in social environments. I felt I never had anything interesting to contribute and found the more I worried about it, the more socially awkward I felt (and probably seemed to others). For some reason – and this happened long ago, probably in my early teen years – I developed the bright idea that being sociable and charming requires nothing more than a bright smile and pretty hair. Unfortunately, I learned the hard way that I was wrong.
Being good company, I’ve since discovered, requires something of an imagination. You have to be prepared to initiate conversation with topics that are easy to discuss, yet expansive enough to encourage spin-off. With movies, for instance, you can start by asking another person if he or she has yet seen the new super hero movie and move forward to discuss previous films that were hits or flops, new and/or old actors, etc. Similarly, music provides the same expansion, allowing your conversation to move forward without pause or unease.
I know all of this sounds ridiculously simple, but these rules that everyone else seems to inherently possess have confounded me for most of my life. I've never been a skilled conversationalist, probably because I’ve never learned to ask questions without sounding like a job interviewer. Similarly, neither of my ex-husbands could carry a conversation, so over the years, I became used to a total lack of communication.
Learning from a Pro
So it was a surprise when I met my boyfriend and immediately found he is the consummate conversationalist. He can discuss whole topics, from top to bottom, without a moment’s hesitation. Even more shocking, he can do this with any type of person, from introverts to extroverts, from those who are interesting talkers to those who are rather boring. In any circumstance, social and formal, he can put those around him at ease and engage them in conversation.
So I’ve begun taking cues from him, listening to the topics he goes for and learning that humans love to express their opinions. This is largely why discussions about movies, music, and similar items are so popular: Everyone generally has an equal opportunity to provide their opinions. And if a debate ensues, that’s even better, because rowdy conversation is a big hit too.
While I don’t have the flair my boyfriend does for charming those around him, I have discovered that talking isn’t quite so hard if you can ask questions and provide moderately informed opinions.
Another important lesson I’ve learned is that how you say something can be even more important than what you say. Making a comment with conviction is crucial for holding your own in any conversation. I’m not a forceful person, so my manner of speaking is usually with a bit of doubt in my voice. But this trait opens the door for others to dismiss and/or discount what I say. But when I’m confident, and say something like it is of the utmost importance, those around me generally seem to agree.
To illustrate, at a child’s birthday party, I watched a woman get up for dessert and return to her seat with a little bit of each dish on her plate. In total, she had a slice of cake, a piece of cookie pie, and a cupcake. When she sat down, without even being prompted, she declared, “This is the only way to decide what’s good and what’s not.” She spoke with so much assurance that not a person there even thought to question her. Instead, they each returned to whatever they had been doing, and the woman ate her three desserts with a small smile on her face.
That’s the kind of woman I want to be, and I’m trying. I just have to continue following my own advice for good conversation.