Why Conversations Fail
“Polite conversation is rarely either.”Fran Lebowitz
Conversations fail because communication is hard, because people give up on them, we are all depressed, and we want to just get on with having fun again. I don’t have to tell you this. We all know it and feel it. Today there is growing divisiveness and an ensuing silence. People walk away rather than converse with someone with a different view of the world, often because conversations degrade into blame and judgment. It seems we are all crabby. Moreover, evidence points to global depression and ambient angst caused by the uncertainty and loneliness of the pandemic years. We’ve retreated and clung to the safety of our “own kind,” and many have even reacted to an opposing view from a family member by saying, “I can’t talk to them, so I won’t.”
Humans are social beings, and we crave interaction.
We share mirror neurons that allow us to match each other’s emotions unconsciously, and we can even mirror each other’s brain activities when telling stories or sharing common experiences. We light each other up! And despite the difficulties, it is just such a time as this when good communication can make the most difference. It can lift us out of our doldrums and help create solutions for the world’s most significant challenges, many of which contribute to our depression.
But how do we converse again when we’ve stopped trying?
Communication is hard. It’s complex. I’ve spent my 10,000 hours studying, researching, and practicing to be better at communication. My life’s work is helping others to do the same primarily because we teach what we want to learn, and I am still learning every day. So, what have I learned? At a basic level, good communication is built upon curiosity, an interest in others, an openness to other ways of thinking, and a willingness to work together to discuss things so we can get on with living our lives. Conversations are vital because it is through them that we learn, develop ideas, and increase skills, and build bridges of connectivity. So, to have a conversation, even with someone you vehemently disagree with, there are three basic concepts to keep in mind.
- Start by agreeing – find something on which you can agree. Shared experience, common concerns (we can all agree that we want to be happy, or that we want the best for our children, or that we are tired of arguing)
- Be genuinely curious. Ask clarifying, open-ended questions without blame or judgment. Stay away from closed-ended questions (ones that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no”).
- Practice empathy. Let go of your story enough to step into the other person’s story.
To learn more about conversations, please see this other post on our blog
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Picture of Bridge by Marian Scott, 8 years old