Recently, after a full week of teaching, running a contest and then finally having some downtime, I slipped into something that was far too similar to loneliness. My thoughts finally had a chance to catch up with me and chastise me about the things that I hadn’t accomplished in the week that I promised I’d get to. But before these thoughts could get a good grip on me, someone knocked on my classroom door. The person standing there was a sportsman named Darryl.
I’ve greeted Darryl in passing for some time, but we’ve never had an actual conversation before.
‘Hey, Marco. I was walking around the school and realised I’d never visited your class before.’
What followed became a long, fruitful, engaging and uplifting conversation about discipline and respect. From someone who has run 12 Comrades Marathons, waking up at 3:30am to complete his training for these races, discipline had a new meaning. The conversation was refreshing and went into places I didn’t expect it to go. By the time we were done, we both felt richer for the experience of connecting.
This conversation, reminded me about the power of connecting with people through conversations.
I wondered if our children had the same understanding of the power of a good conversation.
I wondered if we were giving them a chance to have the skills to speak to people.
This blog post is all about how to maximise conversation in order to turn it into connection…and how to teach our children to do the same thing. In his book You Can’t Text a Tough Conversation, Mike Bechtle reminded me that only 7% of communication is in the words that we use. The rest lies in tone (at 38%) and body language (55%).
This article doesn’t go into the complexities of body language and tone…and it doesn’t need to. When people are sincere and honest about their interests in communicating, tone and body language follow congruently.
A very staple South African greeting has become the bedrock of South African English speaking.
‘Howzit?’ (Meaning, ‘How are you?’)
‘Fine and you?’
This is usually how people greet each other in passing. You exchange these lines while walking away from one another. They don’t create conversation, they don’t even make much sense. People are not ‘fine’ most of the time. There’s a dizzying array of emotions that people feel each day and ‘fine’ isn’t often one of them. Like most cultures, this speech interaction is just a way of people noticing each other without ignoring each other or wasting time to speak.
Most of the time though, this interaction becomes a habit that we just can’t break out of. Every culture has their own common words of interaction, so regardless of your language, you know what I’m talking about here. What if you passed someone, greeted them and then when they were supposed to answer with, ‘I’m fine’ they instead said something like, ‘I’m really struggling today.’
This goes against the rules of this passing interaction! You’re meant to keep it brief and 5 seconds later, we need to be moving on with our lives! There’s a moment of discomfort as we realise that we’ve just opened up ourselves to a conversation.
There will be a few times where someone will need a conversation, or be looking for a conversation instead of a greeting. When we meet these moments, we need to ask ourselves a question:
Do I have time for a conversation or a greeting?
Your answer will determine your response. If you have time for a conversation, then you stop, turn and face the person and follow the thread that they’ve left for you.
‘I’m struggling today.’
‘Why are you struggling?’
By asking this question, you’ve opened up the possibility of conversation.
However, if you only have time for a greeting, you need to be honest about it:
‘I’m struggling today.’
‘I’m sorry to hear that. Look, I can’t talk right now, but can I check in with you later?’
Alternatively, if you have no desire to talk to the person:
‘It sounds like you’re going through something. Look, I don’t have time to talk right now, but I hope things start looking up soon.’
Being honest is not about being nice. It’s about being sincere. Either you can want to connect with someone, or you don’t. Keep it simple.
In explaining to children the difference between these two, here are a few simple questions to help them understand how to choose:
No time means you can only greet. Lots of time means you can converse.
Yes, means you can only greet. No means you can plant your feet and converse.
Yes, means you can only greet. No means you can have a conversation.
Yes means that you’re ready to have a conversation. No means that you’ll have to stick to a greeting.
After you’ve decided you have the time to talk and that you have the willingness to speak to this person, conversation becomes something like gold panning. Imagine yourself at the bank of a river. You have a plate in your hand and you’re sifting through the dirt that you find. Eventually you’ll find something that looks interesting and you’ll reach for it. Until then, you keep tilting your plate and allowing the dirt to fall back into the riverbank.
Conversation is like this. Whenever you see a thread you want to explore, you ask a question about that nugget.
‘Beautiful day, isn’t it?’
‘Do you like days like this? What about the day strikes you as beautiful?’
Alternatively, there’s a lot of dirt in conversation as well. Redirect yourself away from these threads.
‘I’m feeling miserable today.’
‘Well, how do you want to feel today?’
‘Better than this.’
‘Good. So, how do you want to feel today?’
‘What makes you happy?’
Sometimes this line of questioning is hard work. When people are in a mood and looking for sympathy, what they’re really looking for is a way of creating a connection with someone and feeling better. Don’t fall into the trap of going straight into their problems unless you’re ready for the emotional toll it will take on you. Everyone wants to feel better, even if they think they want to feel sad. Remember to keep searching for those golden nuggets in conversation and you will eventually find them.
Once the conversation has a bit of momentum, you’ll find an endless supply of threads that you can pursue. Choose the ones you want to visit and the ones you want to share.
By understanding how to find connection through conversation, you can start to point out a few things to your children. Here are a few questions to ask them, when they’re attempting the same thing:
Communication is a skill that develops over time. It’s like a muscle. The more we use it, the more responsive it becomes. Don’t expect your children to be Conversation Masters right away. It takes time, energy and awareness. But the journey is full of surprising benefits for everyone. Amongst them is the ability to learn new things from and about people that you didn’t know.
Conversation is not connection until you find congruency.
Once you build a bridge between yourself and this other person, you’ve successfully turned conversation into connection. It isn’t as hard as it seems, if you ask yourself questions that relate to this process of bridging a gap between you and someone else:
Once you’ve found a few answers to these questions, point out your similarities. Voice the things that you admire about this person. I’d use the same approach to explain this to your children. Ask your child to say the things that they like about the person directly to them. The response they will receive is usually instant because of the Law of Reciprocity.
This universal law is simple: what you give out is what you get back.
‘Get out of my way!’
Give it and you’ll get it in abundance.
‘I like that you care about other people. You rock that way.’
‘Thank you. I like that you’re patient.’
Whatever it is you’re putting out there with people, you’re going to receive back. Remind your children of reciprocity and hopefully when they meet someone, they’ll make an effort to be more respectful and more patient with them.
Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, we’ll find someone who just goes against everything we say. We can fight them, but most of the time this isn’t much fun. There is no connection in resistance when someone is trying to dominate or win a conversation.
‘I disagree with you.’
‘How can you disagree with me when I have proof?’
‘You call it proof. I call it nonsense.’
Don’t fight resistance.
‘I disagree with you.’
‘You know, that’s why I like talking to you. You show me another perspective on things.’
‘That’s because you’re wrong.’
‘I like how you’re not afraid to tell me what you’re really thinking. Thank you for your honesty.’
Children can often find resistance like this unfair. This leads to feelings of irritation, anger and overall upset. Nevertheless, it doesn’t have to end that way. When your children have had a conversation filled with resistance, ask them a few questions to help build their awareness around resistance:
With time, your children will start to see resistance for what it is – domination and the need to win or the need to be different. Be patient. They will improve their skills through their experiences.
Always be willing to walk away from a conversation that isn’t working. If you’ve tried to establish a connection and this person is fighting it, walk away. Some things are not worth your effort and your time. Every conversation you have should be a win=win situation. You should get something out of it and they should as well.
There’s a difference between giving up and walking away. Here are a few questions to ask your child so that they can see if they’ve tried to make the conversation turn into connection:
Making time to ask your children questions like these after they’ve had an experience allows them to grow their ability to reflect on their own experiences. Yes, in the beginning it’s a bit of a slog, but remember that it’s only a matter of time before they start asking themselves these questions. And when that starts happening, they begin to take personal responsibility for their lives.
My conversation with Darryl was inspiring for many reasons.
He reciprocated the kindness that I showed him, even though we came from different perspectives.
He listened to what I had to say without interrupting me.
I listened without interrupting him.
He showed appreciation for my interests.
I showed appreciation for his.
Most importantly though, he told me about something inspiring…something that filled me with excitement later on when I saw it for myself: the ideas of compounding, momentum and precession all pulled together.
I will be speaking about this in my next post.
Until then, Be Yourself. Be Brilliant!