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April 25, 2013

The Ins and Outs of Being Conversational

In my work with couples, I often get complaints from women that their husbands don’t talk. The women feel that it’s like pulling teeth to have a conversation and the men feel that the women talk too much. Often the truth is they’re both right. When women don’t feel heard, they tend to go on and on, in an effort to finally be heard and many men give one word answers rather than engaging in a conversation.

Communication habits often start at a young age and frequently intensify and solidify, as we get older. Below are several easy communication tips for people of all ages and genders. These tips can easily be passed on and taught to children, as well, to give them a better jumpstart on communication than many of us adults ever had. For those who have received complaints from loved ones about how you communicate, this post is for you J.

The ABC’s of good communication

1.     Avoid answering questions with one-word answers. Giving a one-word answer to inquiries is what leads to the pulling teeth phenomenon. If someone asks you how your day was or how you’re feeling or what’s wrong, etc., do not simply say, “Fine,” “Okay,” or “Nothing.” Minimally, provide your answer with an explanation. For example, “My day was okay. We had another marathon meeting in the morning, which was annoying, but after that I was able to get a lot of work done.”

2.     Return interest with interest. When someone asks how your day was, return the favor and ask about their day. In general, when people show interest in something about you, it’s polite to show interest in them and ask about their experience, opinion and thoughts.

3.     In disagreements, get curious. If you don’t like someone’s idea or opinion, get curious -- not rude. Don’t shut down a conversation with your judgments, harsh criticism or condescending attitude. Instead, ask why they think that and then respectfully share your thoughts (e.g. “Why do you think we should get a dog?”...“That’s interesting.”...“What do you think about how busy we are?  I worry that a dog will just add to our stress, not reduce it. What do you think about that?”).

4.     Add to the conversation. Do not leave it up to one person to carry a conversation. It is extremely frustrating to be in a conversation with someone when it seems that you have to pull each word out of their mouth for them. At some point people will learn to give up and will eventually stop inviting you out, talking to you or even being interested in you. The relationship will just feel like too much work. Be an active participant in conversations. Here are several ways to do this:

    ·      Add to a point the other person makes (“I agree that Mrs. Smith is hard. When I get an A on her            tests—man I feel like I totally earned it, though!”).

    ·      Tell them you can relate to what they’re saying and explain why (“I can totally relate to that! In            fact the other day that very thing happened to me.”)

    ·     Find a piece of thread from the conversation to add to (“That’s great that you went to see the            Boston Symphony. I often wonder whether I would have a greater appreciation for classical            music, if I’d been introduced to it when I was younger).

When it comes to conversation, it’s important to remember that conversations should be two-way, not solo. Add to the conversation; don’t stop it in it’s tracks. Conversations should not be like pulling teeth. Help conversations flow and don’t unfairly make others in your life do all the work.

Challenge: Practice the tips above to keep conversations going and then notice the resulting change in your relationships.

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