Mindful Conversations…


Do you ever say to yourself after a conversation that hasn’t worked out quite as expected, something to the effect of, “I don’t know why he over-reacted, all I said was…..”, or “What was her problem – she’s very thin skinned”?  Of course, the actual words you used during the discourse may seem innocuous enough when written down, but as the late Frank Carson might say, “It’s the way I tell ‘em”.  Maybe, what you think you said, and what your protagonist thinks they heard, are two completely different things.  What you say is only a fraction of what you communicate.  Here’s a translation of some very common phrases to show you what I mean.

What I say
What others hear
Yes, but…  I’m not really listening to you, as I’ve made up my mind already, and I’m going to TELL you how things really are. (By the way, “Yes, however…” is another way of saying “Yes, but”.)
With respect, I heard what you said, and you’re wrong.
With all due respect, I heard what you said, and I think you’re an idiot.
With the utmost respect, I have no respect for you at all, and I think you’re a complete moron
Why? You need to explain or justify your position to me, because I know more than you.

People offer a wonderful microcosm of linguistic terrorism.  Here are three of my favourite guerrilla tactics:

  1. Self-appointed experts – People who, instead of listening to you while you’re talking, are rehearsing their next question. It’s probably a rehash of the one you’ve just answered, but because they weren’t listening, you have to repeat the same stuff all over again, and bore the pants off everyone else.
  2. Toppers – people who, no matter what message, anecdote, or lesson is being delivered, know a tougher client, a worse medical case or a more dramatic/humorous incident (usually involving themselves).  They’re the kind of people who, when you share your bucket list, have done all your dream activities and seem to enjoy rubbing your nose in it.
  3. Incendiary grenades – people who stay quiet for most of the conversation, and then lob a spanner in the works with a little “ta-dah!” just to add insult to injury. If they’d mentioned some of their issues earlier, they might have lost some dramatic effect, but you might have had a more productive conversation.

While it may seem mildly amusing and a bit trite to trot out these examples, if you give it consideration, this stuff actually costs you serious time and emotional stress.  Only you can estimate what that might be.  What would happen if you could put yourself on each side of the conversation?  As a former guerrilla myself, why not consider some of my alternate strategies?

Start off by shutting up.  Listen to the other person.  If you disagree with what they say, or feel they haven’t made a strong enough case, you can ask powerful questions instead of squashing them with “Yes, but…”, or “With all due respect”.

Instead, try “What else have you considered?” That way, if they haven’t considered your approach, you have the opportunity to put your own views.  “Well, what would happen if…?”

If they have considered your views and dismissed them, then you can say “Let’s explore that point further.”  In both cases the speaker believes they are controlling the conversation, but you are holding the floor.

Substitute “Why” with, “Can you explain how this came about?” or “How will that affect us in practical terms?”  Your objective here is to get clarification, not undermine the other person or prove them wrong.

And if you have a tendency to be an expert, topper and/or grenade thrower, hold back.  You’ll get much further with people if you show your interest in them by listening to what they say.  Even better, you might learn something to your benefit.

In summary, your mother, as always, was right.  It’s good manners to listen.  Listen to yourself from the other side, and go into your conversations with these thoughts in mind.  The results will speak volumes.

Dervilla O’Brien

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