Monday, 6 January 2014


Those of you that read my post Closing the Lid on 2013 will know that I've made the move from the house on the hill to give myself a fresh start for 2014. Leaving a relationship, even a fledgling one, is never easy and one can be overwhelmed by thinking too much about the whys and wherefores. I have done much of this and find it exhausting and probably something of a waste of time and energy. By that I do not mean to demean or devalue the experience of a short relationship. There were heady and wonderful times and some not so great, but that is true of life is it not? I would not change a thing; life is to be lived...mistakes are to be made and learned from. There are usually two or more people involved and the dynamics of moving out create many difficult situations and emotions, even when those concerned are all doing their best to be caring and gentle human beings. Enough said about that for now. We all do the best we can. However, it has led to me staying with friends for now until I move into a place of my own again later this month...and that gives rise to my thoughts today about conversation and the importance it has in friendships and other relationships.

This morning I popped upstairs for a coffee before heading off to the mechanic so my poor wee Excel could have it's slightly overdue service, and ended up sitting and chatting with one of said friends over that morning cuppa. I have to say it was the first really refreshing conversation I've enjoyed for some time! We touched on many subjects in the short time including cancer management by natural means, the new John Pilger movie, Utopia (I hope to see it although I know it will make me feel angry and sad...) and the true meaning of words like original, aboriginal, indigenous and traditional. Lawyers and other academics with an interest in words and their meanings can strip them of their modern context and take them back to bare bones; Greek or Latin origins; and challenge our understandings of the things we say and take for granted as being 'okay' or politically correct.  It was probably only about ten minutes...long enough to down the coffee and run, but the thing that struck home was that it was a respectful sharing of ideas and knowledge. One person spoke and the other listened...and responded in a way that indicated that they had heard and understood the first person. The second person then extended on the first persons idea, or asked a question to clarify understanding, or nodded in agreement. It continued in a gentle flow of taking turns to add further ideas or thoughtful comment; there sat an invitation to speak and be heard. It was brilliant. I mean really, it was so simple; I'm surprised it generated such excitement that I want to write for you about it...

Generally speaking, is it fair to say that we've almost lost the art of conversation? Do you find that you are speaking to someone and they can hardly wait for the last sound to emanate from your lips before they are taking off at some tangent or other and enthusiastically sharing some thought of their own. They can't wait to share something about their own experiences or ideas, and often it bears little relevance to the whole of what you've said. It might have been sparked by something you said in the first few words you spoke, but by the time you have finished the sentence or two, you were actually making a point of some sort. Alas, the 'listener' has missed the point because they have not been listening; they have been too busy holding their own thought...their own speech...champing at the bit so to speak (pardon the pun). They have completely missed the point of what you were saying and sometimes even assume you meant something else entirely and begin to tell you all the reasons that you're wrong. Gosh it's frustrating when it happens because...

Usually the people who do this are not interested in your ideas or thoughts in the first place. Not really. So they are not open to you going back to repeat or explain what you were trying to discuss or tell them about. They have not learned to be good listeners. Now I'm as guilty as anyone else of jumping in or interrupting with my own wonderfully exciting contributions to a chat. But I also know how to listen. I learned how to listen long ago when I trained to be a phone counselor for Lifeline. People calling Lifeline are usually in a bit of a state for one reason or another and they need someone to really hear what they are saying, so the training is very focused on that. It is something I am forever grateful for. It is a gift to be able to sit and listen to someone and really hear them. It is a gift to be able to ask questions to clarify understanding, to paraphrase to ensure I am hearing what I think I am, and then to summarise to really know that I've got it. There are times when that is vital and it reassures the speaker that you have both heard and understood their plight. Of course, there was much more to it than that, but those three skills are extremely important to use in a more gentle way in everyday conversation.

Perhaps it is that we are in too much of a hurry, or that we are not listened to often enough ourselves, that fuels our need to interject rather than hearing someone out. How long is it since you sat down with someone over a coffee, a cup of tea or some other beverage...and really listened to every word they said? How long is it since someone shared something with you and you didn't serve an experience of your own right back at them? How long is it since you allowed someone else to finish what they have to say before you jump in with your bit? Be aware of yourself next time you're having a conversation with someone. Value what they are saying. Be honoured that they are sharing with you. If you ask someone how they are, listen to what they say. You might be the only person they tell about how they're really feeling. Perhaps a few of us making a concerned effort to listen and hear others will slowly influence others to slow down a bit and listen too.

The benefits of a good conversation, where both parties have listened well and contributed thoughtfully to the confluence of information are many. Both people feel heard. So important. Both people feel valued. So important too. No one walks away feeling frustrated or annoyed. I'm not talking problem solving talks, although I'm sure the same principles apply. I just mean a sharing of thoughts and ideas. I walked away from the table feeling buoyed up and ready to face the day with a bounce in my step. That's what it can do for you. I had learned something new, had my curiosity nudged (I'm a lexophile...a lover of new meanings for words is something that really gets me excited!!) and I'd shared a little information of my own. The beauty of a conversation like that is I now have some new knowledge that might just help someone else down the track. Don't you love it when you can make a suggestion or pass on a little snip of knowledge about something and it helps someone else? I love it!! It feels so good. If I don't listen well, I can miss out on all the juicy stuff...the snippets and wonders of other people's knowledge and understandings of perspectives. 

There are times when it's fun to have a fast paced chat with ideas running into and over each other with laughter and joking and stories. I'm not saying one should always be a seriously good listener. But there are times when it can be really satisfying to know that you have shared a good chat...and that it hasn't been has been about concepts and ideas and bigger things than what Henrietta wore at the last garden party (apologies to all the Henriettas out there who have recently attended garden parties...I wasn't's just an example). Both parties have learned something new. That my friends, is pretty cool.

Well, this here has been a bit of a monologue, as a blog by nature is, but I would be very happy if you would share your thoughts and ideas about conversation with me by leaving a comment below. Next time we're having a cuppa, give me a nudge if I'm distracted for some reason...and remind me to pay attention...I hope though, that I'll be on my best listener behaviour for you! I'm sure you'll have some gems of wisdom for me and I won't want to miss them!

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