Many People Struggle with How to Carry on a Conversation and fall into Specific Conversation Categories
Social skills have sunk to an all time low. Can you imagine how many Victorians are rolling in their graves realizing the various conversation categories that fall outside of social norms? Many people do not have any idea how to carry on a conversation, to be curious about someone else or how to share a real experience honestly. All of these people fall into one of the conversation categories that follow. When several socially awkward people are put together, I realize how easy it is for me to communicate and wonder why these other types are struggling? It does not take a degree in communication to know how to share oneself and to inquire into the lives of others.
Why is it that everyone doesn’t want to know everything about everyone? Granted when people are like me, curious that is, I find it annoying and immature. However, even if people do not act upon this desire, do they not nurture a desire within to know as much as possible about others? Or is there only an interest in famous people? (These are sort of rhetorical, but please feel free to comment).
My conversations tend to fall into one of three categories. The first conversation category and most difficult category is the “pulling teeth” variety. The next category I classify as free therapy. The third and last category is called, balanced between friends.
The Pulling Teeth Category
The pulling teeth person has their mouth closed, hand on the door and prefers to punch the questioner than tell them whether or not they want a glass of water. They are a swell bunch that typically gets D’s for their social graces. If an offer of water is eliciting this sort of response, then politics and sex are out of the question. No mysteries will be uncovered in this conversational exchange. They are miserable, afraid and convinced your next question will be worse than being scalped.
It is obvious to the socially aware that these people are not worth the effort, but the challenge is hard to resist. Can I get this person to express one telling bit about where they came from or how they feel about mayonnaise? Can I get them to smile? Will I find out that they have had every comfort in the world, which includes loving parents and grandparents, gifts on all holidays, kisses, hugs, cars, a good education, blah, blah, blah, but can’t put together a conversation?
It is easy to torture these types because they are so far out of their comfort zone and represent the worst conversation category. The pulling title could be replaced with inept. Once they finally start relaxing and sharing themselves, it is fun to stop asking questions . They will wonder why you stopped thinking they were the most interesting person in the world.
Free Therapy Conversation Category
Another category is the group that sees questioning as free therapy. Once the questioner has expressed an interest in their answers and continues down a path with a certain line of questions, they think they should bare it all. The truth about the lack of love from a parent, infidelity, alcoholism, tragedies and whatever else occurs to them while the listener stands there. You make them feel better but might be feeling upset they got so personal. During the conversation, a question was asked that ended up being the combination to the lock on the big doors holding back all of their deepest thoughts. Although it is amazing what people will tell you, that spur of the moment vulnerability, when someone lets down his or her defenses, is akin to a one night stand. It is too much intimacy too soon into the relationship.
Between Friends Category
The third and preferred conversation category is a share this way and a share that way sort of conversation. It is about me learning what is going on in your life and you in mine. It is like ping pong and circular thinking at the same time. It is about being engaged in the exchange, which requires empathy, curiosity, and honesty, which lead to closeness. Everyone should have interactions that use all these skills and leave you with a greater understanding of friends and yourself.
The best way to start a conversation is to be curious about the other person without being invasive or weird. At this point in history, we never know whom we are talking to, so ask questions that give an opportunity for someone to give you some information about himself or herself without leaving them feeling exposed.
If it is a first date in a big city, don't ask for their street address, where they work or what their neighborhood is like. This will make them feel like you really just want someone to stalk and not that interested in meeting to talk. Find out where they are from and how they ended up in that part of the world. If the answer comes back as they have lived in this place their whole life, then find out if they have ever had a desire to go somewhere else or if they have always been content with where they are. This is a great opportunity to learn about their history as well as various motivations at different points in their life.
If they are becoming more withdrawn, it might be a good time to either give them a chance to ask you a question, ask them an easier question or share a personal story. If you are hitting too close to the edge of their comfort zone, you will see it in their body language. This will just make it more difficult to have a pleasant conversation.
You can always start by asking how their day was. It is sort of a long winded, how are you. This gives someone an opportunity to share as little or as much as they want. Be prepared to offer them some tidbits from your day.
Being genuinely interested in people, in an engaged way and not in a predatory fashion, will lead to successful discussions, conversations and exchanges.
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