Saturday, June 2, 2012

How To Talk to People About Stuff

I mentioned in my post on Wednesday that an interesting conversation is like a gift to me. Which, besides being excessively corny, is true. And I had never really thought of it that way before.

This is probably why I love dialogue, first-person narrators, and writing scripts. Forget the action scenes, beautiful imagery, or sensory descriptions. People talking! Woohoo!

As I was thinking through my love of talking with people, I started listing the things that make a bad conversation. Most of them are mistakes I make. I am super good at doing stupid things that I know are stupid. It’s one of my mad skills. (The other ones are writing treasure hunt clues, baking cookies, being bad at sports, and making fun of myself. It’s an impressive skill set.)

Anyway, here are the three that first came to mind. Sure, there are other ways to hijack a good conversation (complaining constantly, giggling at inside jokes, or talking at all at a play or a movie come to mind), but these are some of the more subtle.

Trying to impress
            Here’s a good tip: when talking to me, assume that I already like you. Because I probably do. The only two traits that really bother me are arrogance and cattiness. There you go. If you avoid those two things, we can be friends. I’m interested in talking with you, not the person you think I want to talk to. Sometimes I forget this and try really hard to be funny or interesting or deep or whatever when I’m around someone who I don’t know very well and want to impress. It’s stressful and usually not a very good reflection of who I am.

Waiting to talk
            I may have mentioned this before, but I keep a cartoon taped to my desk where one character says to the other, “You know you’ve met someone special if they can respond to what you’ve said without launching into something unrelated about themselves.” Instead of listening, most people are just “waiting to talk.” And when I say most people, I mean…me. I always think of a hilarious story or comment halfway through what you’re saying and kinda zone out until I can blurt out what I want to say. I’m trying to work on it, but it’s hard to get out of the habit of being a selfish conversationalist.

Keeping up a persona
            It’s great that you’re quirky. I get that. But it’s hard to feel like we actually talked about anything that matters if you just have funny, strange replies to everything I say. Or maybe you are the intelligent guy who takes the opposite side of me in every argument and has to be right. I respect your brain. I really do. But sometimes your persona, accurate though it may be, has to be put into perspective. Be a person first. Be a friend or a sister or a mentor or a concerned acquaintance or any identity label that is more about the other person than it is about you. Then, if it’s appropriate, you can be the class clown, the blunt guy, the witty one, or whatever it is that defines the way you interact with others.

As I thought about this, I realized that talking to people about stuff in a meaningful way is not about forcing yourself to be an extrovert or following a list of manipulation-tinged tips from How to Make Friends and Influence People. It’s about caring more about the other person than yourself.

Why does everything come back to that?

Seriously. It’s annoying. I start writing about some topic or a way to get better at writing, and it always comes down to the same thing. Love God and people more. Love yourself less.

I don’t know that there are any shortcuts here. To be honest, I really wish there were, because I am ridiculously self-centered.

Words are my specialty. I know how to use them to be persuasive, funny, or intellectual, depending on what I need to say. People have told me all my life that I’m good at stringing them together, and I began to believe them, so much so that words became part of my identity.

Anything that’s important to you can become your strength or your weakness, depending on how you use it. Maybe you’ve heard that before, in a sermon or anti-inspirational speech or something. But maybe no one’s reminded you of this: weakness is the default. It takes a conscious effort to take what you’re good at and serve God with it instead of serving yourself.

You know that guy in pretty much any action book or movie who could be a fantastic ally if he’s on your side…but you’re not sure if he’s on your side? That’s what your greatest strengths are like.

And what do you do with that guy, the potential friend/possible enemy? You let him join your side…but you watch him really, really carefully. These three tips are my ways of keeping an eye on that guy. I don’t know what your “that guy” is. But guard him. Know his M.O. Make sure he doesn’t do anything stupid.

Conversations can be tricky things, especially for humans. (I was going to say “especially for writers,” but I’m not sure I can really narrow it that far.) Next time I talk to you, feel free to call me out on any of these things.

That should take the conversation in an interesting direction.

1 comment:

  1. Great thoughts. Thanks for sharing!

    This article is kind of related: