The art of conversation has been quite challenging even before the distraction of personal technology came into the fold. Here, our dynamic parenting and relationship expert Dr. Miranda Fernande Walichowski shares tips on how to create sparkling conversation with more depth.
Being a great conversationalist was often the mark of civility, a cherished pleasure, and notably a life-enhancing skill. The art of conversation has been revered throughout the ages. Memorable conversationalists to study and emulate are some of my favorites: Sir Juana Inez De La Cruz, Jonathan Swift, Sir Isaiah Berlin, Virginia Woolf, Gertrude Stein, Octavio Paz, and many others.
Lately, conversation may seem like it is becoming a lost art. Cultural observationists like Henry David Thoreau found that conversations that lacked depth and were so intolerable that in 1845, he moved to Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts. He claimed that he wanted to learn how to live away from constant chatter. I wonder what he would say about all the noise in the world now. At least during his time, the chatter was directed at each other.
One’s presence is no longer needed for chatter. Chatter happens alone. It happens through a device of our personal technology. Because we never know if anyone is listening to the chatter we produce, we become louder and louder until it is pure cacophony. Everyone is talking, and no one is listening.
PULL UP A CHAIR
Thoreau painted a poignant image by stating, “I had three chairs in my house; one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society. When visitors came in larger and unexpected numbers there was but the third chair for them all, but they economized the room by standing up. It is surprising how many great men and women a small house will contain. I have had twenty-five or thirty souls, with their bodies, at once under my roof, and yet we often parted without being aware that we had come very near to one another.”
These three chairs beautifully represent the pillars of conversation. The first chair, solitude, represents the introspective, internal, quiet conversation with oneself. It is critical conversation required for self-awareness and self-refection. The quality and frequency of this conversation is the foundation for the other two pillars of conversation.
The second chair, friendship, is the chair that fosters intimacy and develops empathy. This is the conversation that combats the malaise of selfishness and loneliness. It is in this chair that teaches us how to give of ourselves to others. It is the chair that develops empathy.
The third chair, the one for society, seems to be the one that most prefer. Many people want the larger platform without having developed the skills required by the first two chairs. This ensues in chatter that is not dialog, not productive, is tainted with insularity, and is disengaging.
How do we course correct? How can we commit to becoming effective conversationalists? The remedy is simple and unsophisticated. We simply put away our cellphones a few times per day for several consecutive minutes. However, this is not as easy as it sounds. It is not hyperbole to say that some individuals would prefer to undergo physical pain rather have to be alone with their thoughts.
CREATE ALONE TIME
A 2014 study from the University of Virginia, lead by Timothy Wilson, revealed that when college students were placed in a room for six to 15 minutes and asked to entertain themselves with only their thoughts, many cheated and used their cellphones or became restless. The study was replicated with other populations of diverse ages, levels of education, income, and varied social media use. They manifested the same intolerance to quiet time.
The researchers were intrigued by the results. They decided to augment the stakes for the participants when it came to spending a few minutes alone. The researchers gave the participants the opportunity to self-administer an electric shock if the time of solitude became adverse. Over 67% of the participants opted for one or several electrical shocks. Merely, limiting the number of times that you reach for your phone during when there is silence, when you are not occupied and instead you allow yourself to delve deep into the recesses of your mind and heart, you will be moving up in the ranks of good conversationalists.
A 2016 study by Misra, Cheng, Genevie, and Yuan titled The iPhone Effect: The quality of in-person social interactions in the response of mobile devices gives us insight into the second thing that we can do. They found that the mere presence of a device during a conversation diminished the quality of the conversation. They found that the presence of a device had a direct impact on the level of empathy that was exercised during an interaction. Unconsciously, individuals know that they cannot count on our undivided attention. They know that in any given moment an alert will ding and they cannot compete with the allure of the notification. Imagine if in your next interaction you said, “let me make sure my phone is off and put away, what you have to say is important to me, and I do not want any interruptions.”
Are you resolved to make 2017 the year of great conversation? If you are make sure that you have gathered three chairs to enhance those efforts.