103: How to Have an Actual Conversation

103: How to Have an Actual Conversation

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Talking to people can be difficult. Conversations in a society where people are divided and tensions are high can be especially tough. Today we are talking about why it’s hard to talk to people, and sharing tips to keep your conversations productive.

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How to talk to people begins with how to listen.

A discussion/conversation is two people who are listening to each other and responding to each other in a productive manner with the intent to move the conversation along.

What we commonly have now are not conversations and they are not discussions. We don’t listen to understand, we listen to reply. Someone makes a point you disagree with, and you’re not listening anymore—you’re formulating in your head what you will say as soon as they take a breath.

We don’t talk with people, we talk at them. 

Productive online conversations begin with reading what was actually posted.

How many people read a post and then comment, not responding to the actual post but instead respond to what they heard in their head or where their brain went when they read that post?

Someone can post about selling apple pies for $10 each on Thursdays from 3-7 pm at the XYZ Farmers Market, and people will ask in the comments:

What time is the farmers market?

Do you have cherry pies?

How much are the pies?

Is this the Tuesday or Thursday Market?

Which market are you at?

I’ll take a pecan and a peach pie. Where can I pick them up?

Sometimes we use people’s posts as a place to put our opinions. I recently posted on Facebook, “If you are on Parler or Mewe, drop your link here so I can follow you”. From that post, I got comments and messages like:

I don’t have time for social media and I’m not joining another platform.

Facebook is evil but I don’t know where else to go. What else are you using?

I tried MeWe and Parler. They didn’t work for me.

Okay, I get it. I totally do.

But my post was simply asking for links of people who were on those platforms—that’s all. 

It’s become an epidemic of sorts. Half reading what is written, responding before taking all the information in.

And that’s just one of the issues.

We’ve become more bold, and we like conflict.

I touched on this topic in Social Media Etiquette: Tips from a Farmish Girl . My first tip was, “if you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face at a fried chicken dinner, don’t say it online.”

The problem is in current times, I think there are a lot of things that people would say—and are saying—at a chicken dinner that they never would have said before.

We want to fight. People want to be mad. And in an ironic way, me even doing this topic proves that. I’m frustrated with people being unable to talk to each other. I’m frustrated that people can’t leave stuff alone that doesn’t apply to them.

Conflict gives us something to talk about. It’s much more exciting to talk about things going wrong than things going right. Think about it—sitting down to read a book or watch a movie where there is no conflict would be pretty boring. Conflict is what moves the story along.

So, conflict is part of the game and will always be part of the game. So how do we handle that conflict in conversation without being jerks to each other, or deciding we’re going to hole up and just never talk to anyone again?

Why do people have such a hard time talking to each other?

I recently asked on MeWe: “Why do you think people have such a hard time talking to each other right now (in person or online)? What’s behind the breakdown in conversation? Why is there so much anger and so little movement forward? What is wrong with communication right now?” A few of my friends were willing to share their thoughts, and they brought up some great points.

Troy: I don’t see this in my area (Downeast Maine) on a “in person” level. I do see it online but I’ve always noticed that people are far more likely to be rude or even hostile when there’s a “disconnect”. I’ve been in a customer service intensive trade for over 25 years and customers are always ruder and angrier with the folks in the office over the phone than they are with the workers when we show up in person. It’s far easier to be confrontational when you are removed from the person by distance or anonymity.

That, and the ability to see both sides of an issue seems to be a dying life skill. Nobody wants to consider the possibility that their view of something may not be 100% correct. Nobody seems able to grasp that the other side could be at least partially valid, much less the possibility that it might even be slightly closer to reality than their own view.

The media is doing a great job of stirring up division. They love to paint each sides most extreme few as the “average” and make us believe we are all miles apart; while in truth, the majority of folks on one side are within arms reach of the majority of folks on the other. Nobody will look away from their chosen narrative long enough to reach out though.

Lettie: I truly believe it goes back to that dang phrase “never discuss religion or politics in polite company/with family/etc.” By teaching everyone that certain topics are taboo, it creates a vacuum, and now, with social media and the 24/7 news cycle, it is extremely easy to get into your own vacuum, where everything from your “approved” source is golden, while anything else is just hokum. When you do try to have a conversation, it ends up being a monologue, where one person gets talked at instead of participating.

Lettie also wrote a post at Liberty All Day and said: When you try to talk to someone about something as simple as whether the sky is blue or grey today, you cannot do it. The person who believes the sky is blue because when he looks out his window, he sees a blue sky, and the grey sky person is the same. Meanwhile, I’m over here, looking out one window, and then the other, and realize that yes, the sky is blue over there, but to the south, there’s a storm coming, so it’s grey and overcast.

David: I notice this every summer. People get cranky, and they disconnect from each other. Same as winter. I think most people in this country suffer from seasonal effective disorder due to lack of sunshine since they hang out at home with the blinds closed. Add coronavirus to this and it just gets worse..

Tips on how to talk to each other

So how do we talk to each other? Here are some tips to consider:

What was the actual question/statement?

If your favorite blogger shares a bread recipe, the correct response is not, “that looks great but I can’t eat that because I’m gluten free, greatest life choice ever!” If your vegan friend brings a great dish to a potluck, don’t respond, “that would be a lot better with some bacon on top.” 

I mean, honestly. What are those responses about? In other words…

What’s the point of your response?

Is it to make someone angry? Is it to get a jab in? Is it to prove you are smarter or more well researched or more enlightened? Or is it to actually move the conversation along?

Understand we are in different places, and perspective matters.

People’s experience in a situation is often tied to what they have previously experienced. In other words, where you are in life has a lot to do with how you see the world. And it has everything to do with how you respond to things brought up in conversation. 

I have a friend who often starts her responses to others with “thanks for your perspective” or “I appreciate you giving me some insight into where you’re coming from”.

Where someone is coming from has everything to do with how they’re approaching the conversation. And their perspective, just because it’s different from yours, doesn’t mean they are wrong—especially if it’s the truth that their life has taught them. Our perspectives change as we learn and grow. That’s true of the person you’re talking with, and it’s also true of you.

You don’t have to answer right away.

When we listen to reply, we’re waiting on the other person to take a breath so we can hop in—generally, to get our jab in or put some fuel on the fire. When we listen to understand, it’s okay to take a bit to formulate our answer. I really respect people who say “I’ve gotta think about that.”

Admit when you’re wrong.

It’s okay to suck in new information and say, “I didn’t realize that” or “I didn’t know that.” Someone can totally disagree with where you stand and make a valid point about something and it’s okay for you to say, “hey, that’s a valid point”. That doesn’t make you a traitor to “your side”. It makes you an adult that doesn’t have tunnel vision.

Conversations in a society where people are divided and tensions are high can be especially tough. Let's talk about tips to keep conversations productive.

Your entire life doesn’t have to be on display.

We share things about our life through conversation whether that’s online or in person. There are people who will, through conversation, share pieces of their lives that don’t necessarily need to be shared.

Does it matter that person A knows you live a keto lifestyle? Does it matter that person B knows you’re an anti-vaxxer? Does it matter that person C knows what church you go to (or if you go at all?)

And maybe it does matter. I’m not saying you should hide your whole life. I’m asking you if the purpose of you working those things in to the conversation is to take a jab at someone, or to move the conversation forward.

Be responsible for what you say.

Think through what you’re going to say before you say it or post it online, and take ownership of the words you’ve said or written. Consider what is the purpose of me responding in this way? What do I hope is going to happen? And then own what you choose to say.

Be honest about who you can have a conversation with.

There are people you can have an actual conversation with—people who intend to understand each other’s perspective and work to move the conversation forward. If it’s anything other than that, it’s not a conversation. It’s you talking at someone and them talking at you. Don’t waste your time with those talks.

These tips can help, if even a little.

Does this work for everything?

Nope. There are people who live for drama and there are people who live to increase the conflict.

My tips here are small scale. I’m talking in your own life. I’m talking about what can you do to make conversation just that much more productive.

If you’re tired of the drama and fighting and actually mean it, these are little steps to keep in mind that will help a little bit. And every little bit helps, not only because it makes you more sane, but because people are watching you—and they might learn how to handle conversations in their own lives because of how they see you respond to someone else.

Conversations in a society where people are divided and tensions are high can be especially tough. Let's talk about tips to keep conversations productive.


Personal Parler account: @amyandallthethings or https://parler.com/profile/amyandallthethings/posts
Unloose the Goose podcast: Personal Food Production and Community Exchange
Liberty All Day: Talking (blog post)


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