How being more present in conversation can change your life.
Have you ever left a conversation feeling more seen, heard, and connected? And have you ever left a conversation feeling greater than before the conversation, or even worse — less than? Instead of a real exchange, my observation is that conversations often feel like a zero-sum game exchange, in which one person leaves as the “winner take all” champion.
Many of us are interested in having a conversation because we want to feel more connected to each other, and to ourselves. But what if conversations are actually making us feel even lonelier?
What we witnessed during the Presidential debates was a reflection of the lost art of real conversation and the need to “win” in conversation. And that is true even at the most basic social level.
I’ve been reflecting on the art of conversation, and how little intimacy seems to be happening in them these days. And my belief is that not enough people really know what they think, and instead cling on to an identity and a narrative that makes them feel safe. Because to know what one really thinks takes time, silence, and reflection. It also takes courage, because you might find that you actually disagree with your social group and the status quo.
And what’s scarier than not belonging?
Oftentimes, I encounter people who only want their ego to be seen and heard, rather than a real genuine interest and desire to see and be seen with another person. Is the art of conversation lost now that social media, smartphones, and tweets have replaced the status quo of intimate dialogue?
And to make matters worse, oftentimes there is a conversational hierarchy in which the loudest or most articulate person in the room gets more air time. And it’s not because they have the most interesting thing to say. Most people would agree that great conversations should feel like a tennis match, where one person shares something, and there is space for the other person to respond thoughtfully, and without interruption. It is our own responsibility to create a safe space for each other.
Are we so starved for attention that we want to “win” in a conversation, even with our friends?
And even worse are the conversations about meaningless and useless topics that provide no value to society or to one’s personal life. Actually no, what’s worse are conversations that lower your energy into the abyss of darkness and melancholy and judgment.
What I am interested in is conversations about creation, dreams, new ideas, innovation, cultural shifts, and the meta reasons why they happen. I want to know why one thinks what they think. I want to know the history of how they arrived at a narrative. I want to know what excites them, and what they’re curious about.
And what I’ve noticed is that in a conversation, it seems that people talk so that they can get more clarity and information about their own lives. I’m not saying that isn’t an important point. We all need a mirror and a reflection to help us understand what’s happening in our own lives. But many times I have been in a conversation where the other person has hardly exhaled or asked a single question as they haven’t had a minute of silence to even catch their breath or their thoughts.
And perhaps this is why therapy has become so popular — because most friends and acquaintances don’t want to be the first person that someone sorts out their thoughts with.
Why do so few people spend time reflecting?
Here is what would make a richer conversation: talking to someone who has spent a lot of time in their own thoughts already. Someone who knows deeply who they are, what they stand for, what story they believe in, and why. They can answer the “why” behind the why. This requires introspection and reflection and time alone with your thoughts — through silence, through journaling, through inquiry and contemplation, and more.
Most people don’t spend ANY time in their own thoughts, and as a result, have a difficult time listening. Because if you can’t sort out your own thoughts and make sense of them (many of which are actually just scripts and programs), how on earth can you sort out others and add any real value in the conversation? We assume we know what the other person is going to say, or we don’t find it relevant to our own lives, and shut down.
Conversations are sacred and should be generative, not divisive, and not about ego. We were given language in order to build and expand, and understand each other and not to contract. And words are like swords; they can divide us. They are also like wands; they can unite us.
We all have limited emotional bandwidth with what we can give and what we can receive each day. I personally would like to have a real conversation, a real exchange, and not one based on “sorting” thoughts or information regurgitation, or a desire to be seen and heard by the ego. I want to have conversations that start without an Agenda, or a need to reaffirm an existing narrative.
Because otherwise, a conversation makes us feels lonelier rather than connected.