I think we've all been there:
Caught in a dazed stupor, staring straight through someone's eyes and making mental lists about groceries and errands, when we suddenly hear, "Well, so what would you do in my situation?" or some other such engaging question.
I naturally break into emergency communication mode, where I employ one very discreet and beneficial tool: ambiguity.
Maybe y'all have not 'been there,' but I'm ashamed to say I find myself depending on ambiguity far more than I would like. You would think a communication major, of all people, would have conversations pretty well covered, but I have a tendency to use far too many words, which fall short of a personal response.
I think there are several reasons conversations sometimes seem more of a chore than a reward. I'm going to be pretty vulnerable, if that's okay.
My head always turns at glittering objects and welcomes random excursions. I may be sitting down and talking, but my mind just takes a while to slow its pace. At any given moment, there are hundreds of things I would wish myself doing; packages to send, gifts to make, things to learn, music to sing, dances to make, the list is endless. So, though a conversation has grounded me for the moment physically, my mind convinces me the time can be double used in planning the next project.
I completely admit that some conversations bother me. I don't enjoy listening to someone share the same problems over and over again. Instead of saying, "This is the same story as last week and my response is not going to change," I might say, "That's interesting." That word interesting is one of those ambiguous words that could work in almost every situation. I struggle with others' self-centeredness in hearing stories revolving around them. I also struggle with my own self-centeredness and wanting another person to wonder how I am.
I could tell you the exact moment I lose interest. My eyes feel strange and somewhat out of focus. The voice gets a bit dimmer and I seem just slightly removed from the other person. I can also say that when I sense this change, I hope desperately it is unseen. It's just that, there are some subjects less than intriguing (to me). I have found myself with people who are very, very knowledgeable about these subjects.
Because I want to make a concerted effort to make each conversation meaningful, here are some ways I am going to practice.
1. Ask Questions
I have found the best way to show I truly care about what someone is saying is to ask intelligent questions. Not questions like, "Really? Why do you think that?" But questions like, "If you could say anything to him right now what would you say?" I'm not pretending to be a psychologist (although I loved my psychology courses), but I just know that asking questions means that I am actively listening and also helps the other person process.
I would love for people to walk away from conversations and say, "I never thought of it that way before."
2. Read body language
So much of conversations happen in silence. Even if someone is telling me the same story again, their eyes might float around the room and their hands might insist constant movement. If I am really present - watching as well as listening - then I may hear a very different story. And maybe I don't, but I will know much better the best response. A person who is really looking for advice acts much differently than a person who just wants to vent.
3. Pray when distracted
Call it cliché, but prayer is never overrated. In the midst of an extremely boring account of the latest farm markets, if you've exhausted your questions and know the person just wants to share, then start praying. Pray for the person, for his/her family, for the crops, for whatever comes to mind. When my mind must wander, I figure it should wander productively.
Well, now that I've held my personal intervention on this blog for all to see, I hope you might at least be encouraged to make your conversations meaningful as well! I hope you don't assume I enter every conversation with difficulty... it's just those 'sometimes' that bothers me.