THE POWER OF CONVERSATION

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Business, like life, is about how you make people feel.

It’s that simple, and it’s that hard.

Danny Meyer / Setting the Table

 

 

My brother, Peter, was in town for business and we made plans to get together for dinner. He asked if Rod, an associate of his, could tag along. Since Peter doesn’t know boring people, I said, “sure!”

 

That night Peter showed up alone. Seems Rod was nervous that we wouldn’t have anything to talk about and so decided to set out on his own.

 

I’ll admit – I was stunned. How could three world-traveled grown men not have “stuff” to talk about?!

 

Peter explained that Rod could be shy at times.

 

I get that Rod could be shy since I was painfully shy growing-up.

 

I was shy because I believed I was boring. And I believed I was boring because I didn’t live an exciting life by my definition of “exciting.”

 

Lost in the confusion of this jumble of draining thoughts, I shied away from people, claiming to be shy, lamenting that I was boring.

 

I really wanted to buy Rod a drink and assure him – all would be well! Alas, he never showed. . .

 

Conversation may be a dying art and skill. If it isn’t, there are a whole lot of people who do not understand what conversation is and why it is so needed for our well-being.

 

Conversation is not binary opposites centered on agreeing or disagreeing, arguing or withdrawing.

 

Conversation is something GRACIOUS because it is rooted in engaging another, being present to another. That means the graciousness of conversation is laced with matters of responsibility and respect and clarity and discovery.

 

Shy people offer me the common refrain, “I only like to speak when I have something to say,” while overly-confident people boast that they, “like to tell it like it is.”

 

Neither stance opens you to the possibility of conversation because neither attitude allows you to be gracious.

 

REAL conversation springs from a posture of seeing the other person as a Surprise.

In my UCLA class on business communication, I ask participants to reflect on who influenced them as communicators. I expect that they will tell me tales of family or teachers or friends who impacted them. It’s not uncommon, though, for people to name Oprah, Anderson Cooper, and even a Miss America!

 

BUT, these are larger-than-life personalities – not individuals who directly and immediately helped to shape a class participant.

 

We ourselves don’t have to be larger than life. We just have to be within life.

 

I have oft quoted the great poet Mary Oliver’s “lessons for living life” –

Pay attention.  Be astonished.  Tell about it.

 

Victoria’s mom (names changed) died when she was 16 and ever since she has been guarded in her relationships. She hesitantly wondered if there’s a connection. When I suggested therapy, she said her dad nixed the idea since therapy is only for “crazy people.” We ended up talking about what’s really “crazy” when being willing to give-in to fear.

 

Bethany was not forthcoming regarding why she is defensive around her co-workers. She played with her key card and kept her head down. I found her coy attitude annoying and had to force myself to stay with her. And then she randomly mentioned that her son introduced her to the writings of Malcolm Gladwell – and she lit up! We talked about the impact Gladwell had on each of us and I was gobsmacked when I learned she’d done her Master’s thesis on non-verbal communication.

Ken cried as he shared with me that he had not been kind to women and broke several hearts when he was younger. When he met the woman who is now his wife, he did not feel as strongly for her as she felt for him. She’s the one who wanted to get married, more than he did. He married her because he believed that he needed to be punished for having hurt those other women. We ended up talking about love – love for self and the place of forgiveness in love.

Michelle, a sales person at my favorite furniture store, shyly asked if I was a Cancer. She became alarmed when I told her I’m a Capricorn and that I was born in January. She anxiously asked if it was the 10th – and was relieved when I told her it was the 7th. Her mother’s birthday is January 10th.  She assured me that “Things will get better. These last six months have been hard, yes?”  She then abruptly started to talk about the company’s move of the manufacturing plant to North Carolina. Just as abruptly, she asked, “Why are people afraid to love? Is it something in the dirt?” And again, I found myself talking with a stranger about love – and dirt – and Wicca!

 

I didn’t change any one of these folks’ lives. Nor did any change mine. BUT – in the exchange of conversation, unexpected, poignant and, yes, odd – in a moment of vulnerable authenticity – we entertained, we bonded, we opened up each other’s world a bit.

 

GIFT.

Each was gift.

All of which brings me back to the “business” of confidence. . .

Confidence is about seeing the nooks and crannies of your life. About not taking the seemingly insignificant aspects of your life for granted.

 

Confidence is about talking about those nooks and crannies because somehow they are worth sharing.

 

Sharing implies benefit – for you and for the “other.”

 

Can you believe that there’s something “good” you have to share?

 

That’s ultimately what confidence is – it is about trusting that you have some good worth sharing.

 

Confidence is about being open to the surprise of another who is “other.”

 

Interesting people know their story.

Interesting people know others have a story.

 

What you share doesn’t have to be worthy of mention in PEOPLE.

 

There is value richer than PEOPLE from your unique perspective – as there is from that of the other.

When I leave a lively conversation I feel energized because it has encouraged me to be less self-centered, less afraid.

 

Conversation brightens.

Conversation makes you feel less alone.

And so, conversation can make you feel generously unique – can make you feel YOU.

 

and THAT is the business of confidence!

 

 

I look; morning to night I am never done with looking.

Looking.

I mean not just standing around,

but standing around as though with your arms open.

Mary Oliver

 

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