Scene: A late afternoon cocktail party, following an all-day conference attended by 200 people. I walked in, looked around and realized I did not know a soul. So, I relied on my usual way to get acquainted: “Hi, my name is Diana. Did you enjoy that last meeting today?”
We chatted for a bit, and as I shifted from my right to left foot, I soon knew that the two of us had nothing to say to each other. I excused myself, and went to another gentleman. “Hi, my name is Diana. What did you like most about today’s program?”
Well, we talked for the next 20 minutes – not about his favorite session but about big cities in the country, our extremely partisan Congress, what children learn today, et cetera. Great fun.
Similar experiences have occurred at other events I attended.
My conclusion: Given a room of say, 100 people, I could discuss endless topics with half of them; the other half was the reverse. And we gravitate toward those with whom we are comfortable talking with.
Why? It’s simply the chemistry between two individuals.
How we talk and communicate with each other as well as styles of talking has become a keen interest of mine recently.
I belong to a couple of discussion groups and am aware of the “air time” consumed by some to make a point. In one book group, Sally starts talking about her analysis of a character and soon I hear, “The older man in the book reminds me of my grandfather who once was . . . Eight minutes later, after rambling about where he was born and all he did, she finally gets to his death, “poor soul.” Her fsamily narration had nothing to do with the book.
In another group where we discuss politics, one starts by announcing, “I have only five points to make here” – for 10 minutes of air time. Another member slowly glides from one idea to another, as thoughts enter his head.
I think he’s done when he is silent, and interrupt him with a related idea, but apparently, he never hears me and keeps on going for another 10 minutes. I say to myself, this is not a discussion – it’s a monologue!
True confession time: I was born near New York City in a small suburban community, and when my parents had their friends over, I noticed at age 8 they all chattered at once. When the person with the loudest voice kept on going, they finally listened to her – until she was interrupted.
New Yorkers do interrupt – it’s often the only way a person can actually become a part of the conversation.
Admittedly, I interrupt, but, in self-defense, I only add a sentence or two to provide additional knowledge to what a person is proclaiming -- I think.
I have a friend from New Jersey who interrupts and completely changes the conversation, which is, admittedly, annoying.
I came across an NPR program recently where the moderators talked about two basic speaking styles: One is Cooperative Overlap, which is where that person breaks into the words of the other, and starts talking before the other is finished. They mentioned that friends from New York might tend that way. A moderator called it an alternate name, High Involvement. That interruption might be to add information cooperatively, or grab back the conversation.
The other style is the High Consideration, where that person pauses before speaking, takes turns, and, of course, sometimes never gets to talk. This is called Interruptive Overlap.
They noted that there can be a problem with High Consideration, where the assertive style person might feel the passive person is not involved in the conversation, and not listening. The other moderator admits that is her style and so she has trained herself to give other signs that she is listening, nodding, or hand movement.
Conversation styles also depend not only where you were raised, but where you are living. In the New York, people get together and every topic during the evening is plunked on the table as discussable – be it politics or religion or (ahem) sex. People argue and when the group gets up to leave, they all proclaim, “Wasn’t that a great conversation!” No hurt feelings, no lost friendships just a lot of new ideas to think about.
When I moved to the Chicago area, politics, religion and sex were verboten to discuss, which, for me, made for boring conversations. But Chicagoans still had a way of finding out about you: “Have you registered to vote yet? Oh great, which party?” Or, “Have you found a church yet to join?” Or, “I hear that he is gay. Do you know if that is so?” Politics, religion and sex -- just a different approach to bring up these topics.
Here in California, especially with women, I think the code is to say nice things all the time – a lovely but unrealistic thought to me. I mean if you always say nice things, then I don’t know how you really feel about something or someone.
To that point: I was riding to our book club with a friend and I asked her if she enjoyed the book. “No,’ she responded. “It was poorly written and boring.”
At our book discussion, she said she enjoyed the book and wanted to read another one by this author.
When we got back in the car, I said I thought she told me she didn’t like the book. “I didn’t, but I also did not want to hurt Alice by not liking what she chose.”
“But the purpose of a book discussion is to analyze the book and discuss what’s good and bad about it,” I told her. She nodded, but added, “I don’t want to hurt the person who chose it.”
A wonderful sentiment, but in my estimation, it defeats the purpose of a book club—to analyze a book and learn something from it.
So, conversations come in all shapes and forms in our country today. I guess we each have to figure out where we fit in and whether we talk too little or too much.
How about you, dear reader?