“Conversation is an art in which a man has all mankind for his competitors, for it is that which all are practising every day while they live.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
Ever wondered why it’s so rare to find those truly satisfying conversations, the ones we can then relish forever?
It’s a skill that takes time to hone despite having many opportunities daily. Verbal expression is a basic human need, yet few seem to understand the mechanics of making it an immersive one. As I hopefully look for people who might be skilled at this, I continue to also get better at it myself. Here I share 3 things I have been doing to practice the art of conversing.
Before I list my 3 tips, there are a few premises I should share which would make the tips more effective.
- Ensure you are in the right company, seek some sort of an intellectual equal. In cases where this is not a given, don’t expect to have an exceptional experience.
- Pause as you talk — this can be useful for the other person to pick up the baton and start talking, thus adding to the overall experience. Be sensible and read the feedback.
- Do not dominate as you share your thoughts. There is no need to one-up all the time. Make it pleasant for everyone involved. Give up your turn to talk if the other person is too shy to claim it. Be sensitive and invite ideas. If need be, know how to segue.
To converse well is like dancing Tango — sewn with continuous give and take. You give the gift of good listening more to yourself than anyone else.
It’s difficult to listen if you are just too eager to speak. Or, if you are so sure in your head that you’re better than the other person. It’s not a zero-sum game. A good conversation has both — taking turns to talk and listen. There should be curiosity but not at the cost of interrupting the other, at least not inadvertently. There should be a certain settledness which governs the conversation.
The first principle for listening is the possibility of learning something new. For this, a little bit of trust in the other person is required. The next time you catch yourself interrupting in a conversation, try to sincerely listen.
It’s important to practice curiosity. Listening helps curiosity, and vice versa. In fact, when you show curiosity, let’s say by asking good followup questions, it implies to the other person you are listening.
If you are not curious, boredom will overtake sooner than later. More importantly, don’t you want to engage in the conversation? You don’t need to win it — this is not a debate. You don’t need to have the last word — this is not an argument. You just need to engage.
Approach with a hope of learning, a new door to open, new ideas for the mind to saunter on. Curiosity empowers to contribute more effectively by making relevant and credible arguments without seeming disconnected in the comebacks.
Go into your next conversation with a sense of wonder — the world is unfathomably interesting and you have a gazillion more truths to learn. And from this will rise many curiosities. Be a seeker.
Encourage Radical Candor
Majority of the conversations are filled with false praise, popular phrases, pleasantries and useless adjectives. Very rarely do you find one with radical candor.
Be that person who can tactfully speak your true thoughts during a conversation. Don’t show your agreement if you don’t agree deep inside. Don’t express that an idea appeals if it does not. Don’t praise any more than you truly mean. Don’t say a yes when you mean a no, or you are simply unsure. In the name of etiquette, do not bury the essence. There is a beautiful Sanskrit verse which captures this very logically.
satyam bruyat priyam bruyat na bruyat satyam apriyam
priyam ca nanrutam bruyat esha dharmah sanatanah
Speak truth in such a way that it should be pleasing to others. Never speak truth, which is unpleasant to others. Never speak untruth, which might be pleasant. This is the path of eternal morality, sanatana dharma.
Learn to marry your true thoughts tastefully with words before you talk. By practicing radical candor, you negotiate that it’s important for you to speak and hear the truth, thus naturally encouraging the other person to also consider it.
Not just conversations, if you listen, are curious and practice candor you will probably have better experiences in general. I’ll end reassuring you that conversations are those easily available playgrounds to gauge our levels of sophistication. Using words is just one of the many ways to communicate. Talk with your eyes, steer with those smiles, garnish with that charm you’ve got. Keep it superlative.
Thanks to my long time friend, Amith Srivatsa and my dad, Mukund Rao, who helped with the meticulous review of this article.