My wife Gimalle and I were out recently when she ran into a former colleague. They had not seen each other in more than 14 years and the conversation lasted around 20 minutes.
In that time her former colleague informed us of the direction life had taken her, the status of her last two jobs, her travel adventures and her relationship with her most recent and present husband.
At no time, not even for a nanosecond, did she ask Gimalle a single question about what the last 14 years have brought into her life.
She spent the entire 20 minutes talking about herself.
And we have noticed this to be a common trait among so many people we encounter. Their conversation always centres around themselves and we have often wondered if the reason for this is because they believe their lives to be of such fascinating interest to others or simply because they just do not know how to engage others in everyday conversation.
Many years ago, while attending a communication workshop in Vancouver, the speaker informed us that for many people their most favourite topic of discussion is themselves and that if you want to be regarded as a riveting conversationalist, the easiest way to achieve this is by asking people questions about themselves.
Gimalle and I have made it somewhat of a study to notice how many people we engage with whose primary topic of discussion is themselves and whether they engage others by asking questions about them.
And the conclusion we have reached, based purely on our observation, is that they are blissfully unaware the entire conversation is about themselves.
This is not to say that many people’s lives are not filled with captivating stories, it is just that they seem oblivious to the fact most of their conversations are in fact monologues, not dialogues.
And they run the risk, over time, of people purposely avoiding them so as to spend as little time as possible in their company.
If building relationships is important then we need to remember the basis of conversation is two or more people interacting. Think of a tennis match and as a spectator you are watching the tennis ball going back and forth between the players .
There is a monumental difference between being interesting and being interested. One enables you to share your story with others while the other helps you build relationships.
In other words, if we want to be viewed as purveyors of good conversation, we should ensure the light does not always shine on us, and become skilled at redirecting it to others and listening carefully to what they tell us.
I can’t say I have mastered this skill but I am certainly better than I was thanks to the many gentle jabs I have experienced at the hands of Gimalle when she reminds me to turn the topic away from me.
My grade one teacher, Mrs. Markham, had a favourite saying: She constantly reminded us that there is a reason why we have two ears yet only one mouth.
Back then those sage words were far beyond my level of comprehension, but today, they make perfect sense.
General Schwarzkopf, the ultra-masculine US military legend believed, “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”
Do you think he knew Mrs. Markham?
Till we read again.