The 5 Principles For Great Conversation

Great conversations don’t just happen.

Good ones – maybe.  Mediocre ones – sure.

But to cultivate the habit of robust, satisfying conversations with your ~

  • Sweetie
  • Spouse
  • Child
  • Sibling
  • In-laws
  • Friend

pull up a chair.

Here are 5 (I think fun) principles to help keep your conversations working for you, rather than against you.

1. Every Conversation Counts

Screen shot 2015-03-18 at 9.42.40 AMRemember the 5:1 ratio (see here).

Relationships sink or swim one conversation at a time.

It’s not as if we need to be on high alert every time we open our mouths. But it is good to be prepared.

Just as you’d be unwise to show up for a multi-day back-packing trip with an injury, no  map, no route, no clear destination and no provisions, so likewise you’d be daft to to launch into an important conversation in a foul mood, with no idea of where you want this to go, no thought for what you need from your conversation partner and no energy for the effort.

Since every conversation you have with someone important to you will bring you closer or push you apart, it pays to figure out what’s happening.

Remember the five types of conversation?

  • Connecting – the frequent comings and goings and ins and outs of relating;
  • Deepening – the processing of life’s ups and downs;
  • Transacting – the tasks of living, giving-&-taking that demand some finesse;
  • Transforming – that invitation to grow oneself up that relating invites;
  • Healing – that loving solace we find in one another.

So the first principle – that every conversation counts – means being aware of what’s going to happen. Is this “just” a connective “Hi, you’re on my radar!” few sentences. Or do you need to talk with your best friend because you felt hurt by her actions? The latter will need a bit more emotional preparedness.

2.  Attend to what you feel and need.

Screen shot 2015-04-15 at 10.29.43 AMEver been in a conversation where the speaker’s words and body language/energy were at odds? That dis-connect feeling?

The gritty fixed grin that comes with the words, “No no, I’m fine.”

The fleeting sigh of anguish accompanied by “No, there’s nothing you need to do.”

(Click the image for a list of words for feelings – or you can click this Words for Feelings-2015 )

Say you need to have a transacting conversation with your spouse. “Transacting”? That’s when you need to talk about something important and make some decisions. It’s way more than a simple connecting “Hi, you’re on my radar”. It’s going to need a deeper level of attentiveness and care.

You’ve been offered a huge promotion and need to talk through whether to take it. Before you launch into the conversation, check in to see what you feel and need.

Are you feeling ~

  • Flattered – it’s about time they valued you!
  • Frightened – holy smokes that will mean a lot of work!
  • Frustrated – you’d love to take the job but it means a move and the family is finally rooted.

Now you can begin the conversation by bringing all of this to the table:

“You know – I finally got offered that promotion I’ve been hoping for and now that I have it within my grasp, I’ve got really mixed feelings.”

Knowing you have mixed feelings, you’ll be clearer about what you need from your listener to start with:

Can we just go back and forth with the pros and cons for a while before we even think about the logistics of a move?

 3.  Attend to what they feel and need.

 Screen shot 2015-04-15 at 11.02.51 AMThe other day a client told me how she recently had the chance to do just what I recommend in #2 above. She saw a friend who’d hurt her feelings badly and was finally able to snag her at a party and tell her how these actions had made her feel and what she’d needed from this woman that would have helped.

It bombed! The woman appeared to listen but right after, got up and left the party. My client has neither seen nor heard from her since.

What went wrong?

(See above for a list of needs.)

My client forgot to consider what her friend might feel or need right then.

Remember, this is an article about conversation. It’s a pas-de-deux, not a solo. We have to keep alert for how our steps in the dance impact our partner.

How to do this?

If you’re about to embark on a tough conversation, like the one my client faced, check in first.

Hey Mandy. Good to see you again. I’ve not seen you since we had that difficult situation go down. I’ve been feeling sort of sad and distant ever since. I’m wondering how you’re doing. Is this a good time to talk about it? “

Stay alert to the idea that it really does take two to tango. You may be aware of your feelings and needs, but if you are trying to have a “deep and meaningful” conversation with someone else you’ll do much better knowing as much as you can about their inner state.

4.  Think “Improv” not Tennis.

Screen shot 2015-04-15 at 11.16.55 AMGood, mutually satisfying conversations look like great improv scenes with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, not like foul-mouthed Jimmy Conners slamming the ball back and forth with tantrum-prone John McEnroe.

To take a ho-hum conversation to the “great” and even “great fun” level, definitely go improv over tennis.

Here are Four Rules of Improv, from Tina Fey’s ideas in Bossypants. I really encourage you to click this one page excerpt from the book – Tina Fey’s Rules of Improv and read Tina’s words. She writes as well as she improvises.

RULE #1 ~ Say “Yes.”

  • Start by agreeing with their point: you can shift directions in a moment.
  • Show respect for them as a person: who wants to build a relationship with anyone who disrespects us?

RULE #2 ~ Say “Yes, and . . . “

  • Agree, and add a gift.
  • Contribute something of your own.

RULE #3 ~ Make statements

  • Stop hiding behind questions to much.
  • Think a bit.
  • Be part of the solution.

RULE #4 ~ There are no mistakes.

  • Only opportunities!
  • Beautiful happy accidents.
  • New venues to explore.

5.  Know When to Insert A Period

Screen shot 2015-04-15 at 11.38.30 AM

If you are in a long-term relationship with someone, conversations really never end. They just get punctuated. Maybe you have fifteen minutes to talk about the job promotion but then life interferes – one of you gets tired; or the boss calls; or a kid needs you; or you remember that other conversation you were mid-way through from this morning . . .

It’s OK to punctuate your conversations. Maybe this one needs a comma? “Shall we continue whilst we prep dinner together? Right now I‘m distracted by my rumbling stomach?”

A period? “I’m swiped. I think I’d appreciate sleeping on this. Can we pick this back up on Thursday after work?”

Again, good, satisfying conversations are the thread that stitches your relationship together over time, across space. As much as you can, allow the reality of both protagonists to influence the winding journey any conversation might take.

CAVEAT

Here we are on week 3 of a month-long exploration of great conversations and I’ve not focused on listening.

That’s not because I don’t think it’s important!

It’s because it is SO important it gets its own month.

May is all about listening.

FIRST TIME HERE?

This is the latest article in a year-long series on the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-had.

Click the box for the full list.Top 12 Relationship Skills

If you are interested in reading this blog in sequence, below are links to the series to date, beginning with the first posting at the top.

OVERVIEW

SKILLS FOR UNDERSTANDING

SKILL ONE ~ Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

SKILL TWO ~ Learn how to be pro-active: choose how y’all show up.

 SKILL THREE ~ Accept (and get curious about) other peoples’ complexity

SKILLS FOR CONNECTING

SKILL FOUR ~ Master the Art of Conversation

 

35 thoughts on “The 5 Principles For Great Conversation

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