I recently took a training course on conversational skills. The presenter, Paul Axtell, tried to explain how we could objectify conversations and intrapersonal contact. Doing so would allow us to maximize our day-to-day interactions and maintain better relationships at work and in our personal lives.
Paul was a chemical engineer for 20 something years. Therefore, I did not find it very surprising that Paul was trying to objectify and rationalize conversation.
To his credit, he did not try to give us the “for-sure, heal-all” equation for how to interact with people. Instead, he tried to give us a different perspective on what our interactions with people actually are. Based on our improved perspectives we could then grow, learn, and refine our methods in order to improve our relationships through our conversation skills.
To a certain extent, I agreed with his theory — our relationships are indeed a series of conversations. Without knowing it I have actually approached relationships this way for a long time.
I recognize my relationships are perpetuated by conversations, and the ones I value I keep alive by checking in once in a while on a personal level. I call someone to say hi, or I drop them an email to say hi. I talk to them for no reason but to let them know that I think about them.
Then there are special relationships where bonds are so strong that it doesn’t take conversations to keep them going. You know who you are. <3
On the other hand, there are those relationships I don’t value as much, and those are ones that I do not nurture. They lack conversation. They are utilitarian. If I do not talk to these people for a long time, I am perfectly fine. I don’t worry about them at all until I need something from them.
If you know me, I’m the guy who gets annoyed when people ask me how I am doing when I know they don’t give a shit. I don’t particularly like small talk, although I recognize that it is important to establishing comfort and familiarity, it just seems so vaporous. Well, small talk is white noise — and Paul touched on this when he said that a relationship based on just small talk is not really a relationship at all.
But it takes two people to step beyond sports and the weather. You can’t have a meaningful conversation when one person is mentally disengaged. Each half shares equal ownership of each conversation — each half of the relationship.
And so I started to think that maybe these people don’t give a shit because I never stop to talk to them — not the other way around. So next time someone asks me how I am, I might just stop and tell them.
If you look at it a different way, it is them giving you a chance to speak. And your chance to speak is a great opportunity to say something much more meaningful than “Hi” or “Good” or “Fine”. Everytime you answer with one word like that you fail to create a connection. Imagine if you went the rest of your life like this.
Paul did say that you should not ignore your goals and committments. Of course, if you talked to everyone all the time you would never get shit done. Plus, some people are fricking annoying and they’d keep you in that hallway for over half an hour as they rambled about their bathroom remodelling or how their dogs like to eat their own shit. They should be skipped.
As for the people you don’t know about, stop and talk for a minute or two. You’d be surprised at what they have to say.