It has been said that one of the greatest fears people hold is speaking in front of a group of people, yet we seem to have no shortage of public speakers. There is a kind of speaking that inspires greater fear. This is the fear of having a real conversation.
Conversation is when two or more people talk openly and honestly, listen deeply to each other, and reach a common understanding. Agreement is nice, but irrelevant. The art of conversation is not about getting someone to agree with you. It is about seeking and finding a common understanding.
The first goal in conversation is to understand the thinking of the other person. The second goal is to articulate one’s own thinking in a way the other can understand. A true conversation is blameless, non judgmental, direct, and respectful. Conversation is a way of connecting.
Most of us are afraid of a real conversation. If we really listen to someone else, it may upset our world view, our self image, or our view of life. We might find out we were wrong. We might discover how they really feel about us. If we said what we really felt, the other person might be hurt, angry, disapproving, or judging. They might take action against us.
We are afraid of conflict. It poses a threat. We don’t want to be rejected, hurt, or embarrassed. The thought of conflict provokes the flight or fight response. We either avoid or attack when we feel threatened. We tend to do everything but engage in conversation.
In our organizations and families we are starving for conversation. Blaming takes its place. It’s easier. It’s easier to tell myself how wrong you are than it is to tell you I want to have a conversation. Many will say: “I tried that. I tried talking to that person.” Trying to get someone to see it your way is not a conversation. It is certainly important to state your preferences. In conversation you are willing to suspend your judgments and conclusions while you listen to the other person. You are willing to allow new conclusions to arise as products of your mutual understanding.
Conversation is responsive. In it we see the other person as a real person. We accept who they are. We see past perceived differences in gender, race, ethnicity, religion, intelligence, sexual preference, economic status, age, profession, title, or background. The person with whom we are conversing is first, and foremost, a person. You are first, and foremost, a person. Moving beyond blaming makes it possible to have a conversation. Occasionally I meet someone I dislike. I purposely initiate a conversation. More often than not, I come away with an appreciation for the person. The dislike I felt was in me, not in them. It was my projection.
How often do we give ourselves negative messages about others without actually talking to them? How often do our negative thoughts become self fulfilling prophecies when we treat people as if they have already offended us? How often do we refuse to hear the facts because we already have an opinion?
When you are experiencing difficulty with others ask: “What is the conversation I am having and what impact is it having on this person? How am I allowing them to affect me?” Briefly step outside yourself and observe. Ask yourself if this situation is what you want.
It is certainly okay to express your anger. For example, you could say, “When you did that, I was angry.” Conversations are not always perfectly rational. Just remember you are talking to a real person. Conversations need not be devoid of emotion. Emotion adds meaning to conversation. Maintain an awareness of your emotion and the effect it is having on your conversation.
A lack of communication produces a void. People fill in the void with thoughts that assume blame. Insist on communicating with people. Refuse to blame them when they don’t communicate with you. Refuse to be disturbed by the opinions of others. Your ability to listen and to express your truth will be influential. Is there someone you are blaming right now? Consider having a conversation.