Saturday, 19 March 2005
Folks, it's not really that difficult. Let me illustrate by creating a little pattern drill you can use to hone your skills. The pieces that you should practice are highlighted for your learning convenience.
Me: Have you come to this meeting before?
You: No, this is my first time. Have you come to this meeting before?
Me: What do you do for a living?
You: I sell insurance. What do you do for a living?
Me: How long have you lived in Seattle?
You: I just moved here, actually. How long have you lived here?
Me: What do you think about this dance class?
You: Seems like fun. What do you think about it?
Me: How old are your kids?
You: They're teenagers. How old are your kids?
You see how this works? I ask a question, you answer, and then you ask a question back. This is called "conversation." If you forget to add the highlighted parts, it's called "interview," or depending on how reluctant you are to answer the questions, "interrogation." In the advanced class, we work on you thinking up your own questions.
I keep having this experience. I'll go to some sort of social function and I'll talk with people and discover, again and again, that people don't know how to have a conversation. They can answer questions, but they can't return a conversational volley, so the experience is like playing ping-pong with one player. This happened at my high school reunion, it happened recently at a blogger meet-up I attended, and it happens when we go out for beers after my weekly salsa dance class.
I'll grant that a conversational effort that falls flat can be a pretty good clue that one's interlocutor does not actually want to converse. But I see this happening often enough that I think some people -- make that a lot of people -- just don't get it.
So practice the drill, and the next time you're at a party or a bar or wherever, when someone makes conversation with you, you'll be ready to show off your newly acquired skills.
Coming soon, a chapter on "Shut up and listen: How to converse with people instead of pontificating."