The Art of Conversation

“As modern culture embraces social media and digital chatter, valuable aspects of face-to-face conversation are being lost.” – Breathe Magazine

Can we talk? The one and only Joan Rivers brought that question to a whole new level during her time here on earth. Not only was she funny but her humor, combined with the ability to connect with people, is what allowed her to get away with the stuff that would follow her “Can we talk” one liner. She was bold, brave and brassy! I think it was her personal interactions and ability to read people which further allowed for this level of “straightforward-ness.”

In today’s culture,  personal interaction has been compromised because of the way people are digitally communicating as well as evolving. Everything is so rapid… the accumulation of knowledge, the ability to research, shop, learn, entertain, educate, obtain information in minutes and, yes, communicate point-blank words that are exchanged via texts that are devoid of eye contact and emotion. Sadly, the art of face-to-face conversation is becoming a lost art. We can change that though!!!!!

Have you experienced conflicts via texts because the message was received and interpreted NOT the was intended? Texting serves a purpose in that we can get a quick answer when needed. However, we all find ourselves in these lengthy threads of conversations that take more time and energy than picking up the phone does, or meeting for tea/coffee or a bite to eat. We have all become quite “laid back” in our communication styles. How many of us don’t even take advantage of FaceTime? At least we can better gauge emotions, a person’s state of mind, their need and intention via FaceTime. That’s not something we can do via texting. And boy, can THAT create unwelcomed and unexpected  problems!

I came across a line in an article I was reading,  which inspired this essay, and it seemed to compliment my previous blog, Keeping It Real. I think it succinctly states the conversation crisis we are experincing in today’s times:

“If more people are more connected than ever before thanks to technology, paradoxically there are also more people so immersed in the digital world that they forget to experience life in the real world, ultimately losing the ability to communicate in person.”

There is a word in this quote that is key. And that the word “ability.” The art of conversation takes ability, skill, talent, practice, discernment, eloquence, tact, truth, intention, meaning and language….just to name a few. We each have our own communication style. Our styles have taken years and years (and perhaps even tears) to develop. It’s as if we’ve tried on different styles of communication throughout our lifetime until we find one that suits our personality. While some of us feel comfortable in all types of conversations, there are others of us who freeze at the thought of initiating conversation, much less taking part in meaningful or sensitive dialogue.

It’s my belief that face to face conversations either make you feel alive or they scare the crap out of you. What do face-to-face conversations do for you?

  • Do you enjoy human interaction?
  • Are you comfortable speaking in different settings?
  • Are you comfortable approaching a complete stranger and initiating a convo with them?
  • How do you feel when a stranger approaches you?
  • Do you enjoy eye contact?
  • Are you a touchy-feely type of person?
  • Do you enjoy the art of a good, real, raw, oftentimes messy and significant conversation?

It’s also my belief that we can all use some conversation etiquette these days. As with all things in life, we periodically need to assess what we are doing, how we are doing it, and decide if we need to alter or make a change in our approach to a given situation. Well, the article I was reading in Breathe Magazine (The Well-being Issue), listed the following guidelines to help us improve our conversation skills:

How to start a conversation:

  • If you feel anxious, ask questions first, so you become more comfortable about sharing your thoughts.
  • Avoid discussing the weather (seriously!) and direct the conversation to more interesting matters.
  • Avoid contentious topics on first acquaintance and try to establish common ground instead,
  • Once a mutual connection is reached, turn the trivial chitchat into something more meaningful.
  • When joining a conversation, be aware of the tone and mood so you can adapt accordingly.

How to take conversation beyond small talk:

  • Share anecdotal details about your life and experiences relevant to the subject being discussed.
  • Be genuinely curious and ask open-ended questions to invite people to talk about themselves.
  • Pay attention to body language so you can change the subject if you see signs that others are no longer engaged.
  • If you are open, honest, show compassion, and maybe a touch of vulnerability, people tend to mirror these qualities.

Conversation Etiquette:

  • Be approachable. Smile. Be friendly, Keep eye contact, and listen without interrupting.
  • Show interest. Displaying attentiveness and asking meaningful questions will show that you really care and also encourage other people to open up to you.
  • Be passionate but don’t try to convert people to your beliefs. Maintain an open mind and make an effort to understand other people’s perspective.
  • Don’t make it feel like an interrogation or be a conversation narcissist. Ensure a balance in the dialogue to avoid constant questioning or boring monologues.
  • Don’t revel too much about yourself. Disclose unwelcome information and you may find an awkward silence.
  • Be yourself and be natural. If you are an introvert, be brave and practice many different social situations. Many people don’t like small talk but try to consider it as an opportunity to learn about others as well as yourself.

The aforementioned guidelines can help us all be a good “conversationalist” and enhance our ability to talk and listen effectively. And again, as with all things in life, it is a practice! And as far as difficult and sensitive conversations go? I truly believe in speaking the truth kindly, calmly and compassionately. Like Yogi Tea tags often advise: “Say it straight, say it simple and say it with a smile.”

The other guideline I like to adhere to pertains to gossip. When it comes to gossip, unless it is the absolute truth, kind and helpful, I do not partake in it. “He said / she said” scenarios are toxic, and they take on the characteristics of the “telephone game” in that each time the story is told to another person, and that person repeats it, the story has changed entirely. It truly is a waste of energy and a detriment to our mental health….just sayin’.

So my darlings, what do you say? Let’s put away our phones a little more often, and seek out a friend, co-worker, family member or complete stranger, and let’s practice the art of face-to-face conversation. And remember to be aware of the message that a phone in hand, or at the table, sends to our friends, family and colleagues when we’re in their company: that they don’t matter. Will you join me in having more face-to-face conversations where we are totally present for each other?

And if you are one of those people who are petrified and afraid to step out of your comfort zone….take baby steps. One step at a time, You may just be surprised at how you blossom and come to life. And speaking of life, the world needs more people to come alive!

Inhale Love & Light…Exhale Grace & Gratitude, JTC

 

THE Conversation

“Share your conversations with those closest to you.”

In life, most of us take the time to plan in an effort to have productive lives, successful careers and wonderful families. We have become the master planners when it comes to investing and finding creative ways to raise and save money as well as innovative ways to work and travel. We have taken planning and hosting celebrations of all kinds to another level –  births, graduations, bar mitzvahs, bat mitzvahs, sweet sixteen, first dates, engagements, milestone birthdays, bachelor and bachelorette parties, wedding showers, weddings, gender reveal parties, new homes….you get the picture, right? But why do so many of us fail to plan for one of our most important dates of our lives? The one event that planning for, as long as we are alive, can provide us (and our families) with the utmost sense of security, comfort and peace of mind….Welcome to THE Conversation.

What conversation am I talking about? Well, if you missed my previous blog, The Pain of Death, you may want to first start there. In many cultures, death and dying is a sacred rite of passage and is spoken about, meticulously planned for and celebrated in a myriad of ways. Yet in others, talking about death – much less planning for it – is a taboo. Then there are people and cultures that fall somewhere between both. Where do you fit in?

What is your relationship with death? Did your family talk about it when growing up? Have you experienced the death of a loved one yet? Have you had to suddenly plan for someone’s passing? Have you ever gone to a funeral, wake or memorial service and say to yourself, “So and so never would have wanted this.” Or “So and so would have wanted x,y, and z.”  Or “What did they know about so and so?” Well, the sad reality is that “So and so” failed to make their wishes known.

Failing to make our wishes known when it comes to our health care, in the event something happens where we are left unable to make decisions for ourselves, can leave us without any quality of life whatsoever – perhaps even in a vegetative state. Failing to make our wishes known in the event of our passing can be catastrophic. Especially if there is money, property and THE most important investment property yet – children. What if a sole parent, or both parents, tragically die and a young child or young children are left behind? These are scenarios that happen every single day. Just think about all the people who left their home in the morning and never came back. Do you think they thought they were going to die that day? How about people who go to sleep at night and never wake up? I’m sure they had a laundry list of  “to-dos” for the following day, and dying was not an item on THAT list.

Consumerism and materialism in this country is off the charts. Everyone wants more, more, more….more money, more beauty, more clothes, cars, houses, vacations, gadgets, indulgences, experiences, and people will spend money they have and don’t have to attain the latest “thing” du jour that promises blah, blah, blah. Everything has to be “in order” or at least “appear” to be in order to the outside world. That’s all fine and good if that’s your idea of a nice life and is what floats your boat. But how about investing some of that time, energy and resources in planning for a nice death?  Or at best, having conversations about it with close friends and loved ones. Have you spoken to a loved one about your end of life wishes? Have you secured proper planning? Do you have an advanced health care directive? Have you designated a health care representative that will honor your wishes?

We have so many on-line planning tools and resources at our fingertips these days. In addition, many funeral / memorial homes even have personal planning guides available where one can document information such as vital statistics, personal records, estate information, insurance and beneficiary info, military history, family history, memorialization instructions, persons to contact or notify, the location of one’s will, and agencies, companies and organizations to contact. Why do we fail to plan? Any educator will give you the answer to that question – because failing to plan is planning to fail. Simply stated.

If we aren’t comfortable talking to our family, for whatever reason, then we can talk to our beloved friends. We can even enlist the help of some of our friends to aid us in getting the ball rolling. While I’ve had an advance directive and a will for as long as I can remember, and many of my friends and family are aware of my “overall” wishes, a couple of years ago I took the “planning” to an even more detailed, organized level. Not only did I update the legal documents, but I also recorded what I want done with my remains, the kind of event celebration and music I want and even took pictures of jewelry, furniture, and items that are near and dear to me and I want to bequeath to friends and loved ones. I put all these pictures in a photo album and, next to each one, I listed the person’s name and their phone number. The key is to remember to take pictures of any new acquisition….wink, wink, and make sure to give copies of your documents to the people who matter most.

As a matter of fact, one of my lovely friends and I just set a date for me to come over and help her do the same. Now remember, the idea is to not only be organized but to also have fun doing so. Set the mood, burn some incense, light candles, have great music playing in the background……..Make a fab event out of it, and plan to celebrate your successful accomplishments. I am sure we will celebrate will a little Pinot Noir and perhaps some delicious snacks or a nice meal. Remember, at best, snacks are always a must! And, at the end of this process, what we will be celebrating is the sense of comfort, ease and peace of mind we can have by having had THE Conversation and, ultimately, being prepared. What a beautiful, mindful, thoughtful and considerate gift to leave behind for our loved ones as a souvenir of our last rite of passage!

Isn’t this so much better than the added stress, anxiety, frenzy and heartbreak we leave behind if we fail to prepare? Loved ones left behind are already stressed and heartbroken. Why add uncertainty, confusion, drama, and perhaps even conflict, to an already painful moment in their lives?

So, darling, if you are someone who has been avoiding THE Conversation, may I ask you  why? If you are in need of having this convo, my wish for you is that, after reading this, you may feel inspired to share your conversation with those closest to you….or at best make you a little more comfortable and at ease doing so. Just remember to make the process fun and entertaining….Oh, and remember the snacks xo

Inhale love & light…Exhale grace & gratitude, JTC