The Art of the Conversation

Today I spent a bunch of hours talking to one of the best conversationalists I know, Tim Schlitzer.

I am actually really lucky because I know so many people who have taken the dialogue to an art form. Zee Zahava is a  pure master and a virtuoso, as is Anthony David Adams.

Here is what I think it takes to be a world-class conversationalist:

1. Be engaged with the world. If you are not out in the world, doing things, and having new experiences all the time you will have nothing to talk about. But it is not enough to simply have experiences. You must also…

2. Reflect on your experiences.  You can ponder your experiences of course, but I really think it helps if, from time to time, you write down what you learn and how you are personally affected by the people you meet, the places you visit and the experiences you have.  (Most of my favorite conversationalists are also really good writers.)

3. Master the art of listening.  When you listen to someone else with rapt attention, you not only show respect for that person, but you more quickly locate common ground, where you can then begin to interweave your shared interests and create a beautiful new tapestry of ideas and stories.

4. Be funny. In order to be engaging you must be witty, upbeat and charming. No one wants to hear tales of woe and disaster unless you can spin disaster into a great story. Don Miller’s book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years should be  a primer for all budding conversationalists.

5.Know what a True Dialogue is. A dialogue is not just a matter of taking turns talking. It’s not just me telling you about my vacation, and then I stop talking so you can tell me about your vacation.

No.

There’s no artistry in that. That’s just blabbing and it’s boring. When a dialogue reaches the stage of an art form I can tell you about my vacation and manage to weave you into it. That takes perspicacity, intimate knowledge of the other person, and the ability to to distill the universal essence  of a human experience so that both speaker and listener feel that they have had the same experience.

Lately I have been reading research about how the over-reliance on texting is destroying the art of the conversation. I don’t know anything about that because I simply refuse to  talk —at least for very long, to people who can’t hold a conversation, or who don’t know how to dialogue.

A good conversation involves timing, listening, weaving, and charming storytelling. If you have ever experienced one, you know that it is breath-taking in its effect. And you can’t wait to do it again.

I am lucky. I know some great conversational masters.  I love it when I get to sit down with them and co-create, as I did today, a beautiful tapestry of connection.

Thanks, Tim.

The Importance of Conversation and Connection

I am a shitty friend. I tend to neglect friendships by not keeping up, or arranging lunches or emailing regularly.

I don’t know why I do this, but I do.

When I was a kid, and people would compliment my mother on how good her children were, her stock response was, “They thrive on neglect.”

I don’t know about the “thrive” part, but she was certainly honest about the neglect.

I am always amazed and deeply grateful that the people in my life who I consider friends, who I value as friends, who nourish me and comfort me and make me laugh, who touch my heart and enrich my life beyond measure still want to talk to me, and see me, and seek me out, and hang with me even though I neglect them.

I want to tell them I’m sorry. I want to repent my shitty friend ways. I want them to know how much I appreciate their generosity in the face of my stinginess. I want them to believe that I love them even though lots of times they don’t really feel it due to the way I act, or don’t act, in feeding the friendship.

I am grateful that they don’t die as friends a result of my neglect.

I just spent four and a half hours talking to a woman who only recently has become a friend. We met for dinner at the local brewpub at 6 pm and didn’t stop talking until 10:30 and we could have gone on way longer than that but I had to get home and post this blog before the clock struck midnight in order to preserve my streak.

The  conversation we had was a meditation, a sacrament. I felt heard and I heard. I felt seen and I saw. I felt understood and I understood in return. The food came, the food was taken away. The waitress brought the check and it was ignored. The intensity of the conversational energy was so intense that, even though I saw people I knew, they didn’t approach to say hello. (One of them slipped me a note on his way to the bathroom to say “hi,” that’s how intense the conversational vortex was.)

Towards the end of the night when the kitchen was closed, and the staff was cleaning up, and there were just a few people left, the intensity subsided enough that a waitress who I love dared to venture over timidly, and then my trainer paid a visit, but that happened way later. In the heaviest of the conversational force-field, there was no restaurant, no other people. There was just dialogue.

Sometimes I feel lonely in this town. Who am I kidding? MOST of the time I feel lonely and alienated here. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: this is not my tribe.

And while it is true that the dominant and ruling tribe here does not align with my values or my politics, there ARE people with whom I share a worldview and who I feel deeply connected to. These people save me. They save my sanity. They mitigate my loneliness. I would miss them if they moved and I couldn’t sit and have dinner with them and just talk for hours.

If they neglected me, I would not thrive.

I would wither.

Namaste, dear ones.