Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘conversation

Can you remember engaging in a great Conversation? It was about what?

Note 1: Re-edit “How a great conversation is like a game of catch? August 16, 2016″

Note 2: An acquaintance of mine during university years considered me inconsequential and Not that serious in relationships. And she was correct at the time. At the end of a semester for graduation we met at a coffee shop around campus. I asked about her thesis and I listened intently without interruption. With my newly trained experimental mind I asked pertinent questions and she replied clearly and confidently. It was kind of an exercise for presenting her work to the jury.

At the end of the long “conversation” she said: “Man, if we had this conversation long time ago I would have been your best friend”.

Any person who work on a subject matter that interest him and do his due diligence in research will answer your questions confidently, clearly and with excitement.

Sort that she appreciate your attempt at sharing with her toil and achievement.

As a radio host, Celeste Headlee has engaged in her fair share of discussions, and she’s thought a lot about how to bring out the best in a conversational counterpart.

ideas.ted. TED. Jul 19, 2016

A good conversation is like a game of catch.

When you play catch, you have to do an equal number of catches and throws, right?

It’s not possible to play catch with somebody and throw more than you catch, for the most part.

Because then you’d just be throwing baseballs at them, which is not nice. This is the exact same ratio as a healthy conversation — you’re going to catch as much as you throw.

you’re going to talk 50% and listen 50% of the time — and we don’t generally have that balance in our conversations. (Supposedly we were actually listening?)

Here’s the best way to start a conversation that you’re worried might end in an argument:

There’s a great study out of Harvard in which researchers discovered that talking about yourself actually activates the same pleasure centers in your brain as sex and cocaine.

That means it’s very pleasurable to us to talk about ourselves and what we like. You could walk away from a conversation like that and feel fantastic about it.

But remember — talking about yourself makes you feel fantastic. So you may have just walked away from a conversation in which you talked about yourself — that was awesome! — and the other person is walking away going, “Good god, that person would not stop talking about themselves.”

It’s a totally different perception, so you’ve got to remember you’re playing catch — find the balance.

How do you go beyond small talk to have a meaningful conversation with somebody?

Not every single conversation that you have is going to be in-depth and serious. And that’s okay! You should relax. Eventually, while you’re sitting there talking small talk, something’s going to pique your interest, or something’s going to catch their interest, or they’re going to say, “Wait, what did you just say?” Or, “Why is it that way?”

And someone’s going to ask a question, and it’s going to lead you further into deeper subject matter. So it will happen, if there’s something there to talk about. Otherwise, be on your way — let it go.

What about that awkward silence when you don’t know what to say next?

By the time that you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated. So by the time you’ve reached an awkward silence, something’s already gone wrong. But it’s not too late!

Very often, an awkward silence comes because either you weren’t listening or they weren’t listening, and therefore, you guys have kind of meandered off-topic to where you’re at the opposite ends of a football field.

The way to fix that is to say, “You know what, I’m sorry, I got totally distracted. Where did we start? Can you help me out here? I was just following a train of thought about Cheetos, and I got totally lost.”

What should you do when it is very clear from body language that the other person is not listening?

End it. Again with the game of catch.

That’s the equivalent of me taking a ball and throwing it over my shoulder instead of to you. Why would you want to keep playing? You have to have an equal partner in a conversation. Otherwise, walk away.

You make the case that all experiences are not equal. Are you saying that empathy is not useful in a conversation? What should people do instead?

People always push back on this topic. Now, I’m not a psychiatrist or a psychologist, but I believe that most of us are motivated by empathy. You’re with your friend, and you want to say, “Oh, I do understand you, because I’ve been through something similar.”

But the truth is, you haven’t — you haven’t been through something the same.

You maybe have gone through something kind of similar, but the fact of the matter is that you’re a different person from your friend — so even if it was the exact same experience, even if you both almost went down on the Titanic, the way you experienced that is completely different. And these situations are most likely totally different.

So although it feels to you like you’re reaching out and giving empathy, what’s happening is that you’re talking about yourself again.

So you shouldn’t say, “I know how you feel”?

That’s the worst. You don’t know how they feel. They’re confiding in you, and all they want you to do is listen to them and say, “Wow, that sounds awful. There’s no way for me to understand what you’re going through, but you tell me what you need.”

What do you think is stopping people from having better, more meaningful conversations?

The elephant in the room is obviously polarization, and this is true not just in the United States, but I think Brexit and the migrant crisis in Europe tell us that it’s happening all over the world.

Oftentimes we’ll enter into a conversation, and somebody will say, “I’m voting for Trump in the fall.” Conversation over.

You immediately say, “Nothing this person says is something I want to listen to, they have nothing to teach me,” and you end the conversation. And if the conversation does continue, you’re not actually listening to them.

That’s what is often ending conversations now.

We have stopped talking to people that we disagree with.

We basically want to be able to curate and edit our conversations the same way that we curate and edit our social media. If we’re talking to somebody that we don’t want to hear from, we want to unfollow them like we do on Twitter.

The problem with that is that everybody knows something that you don’t.

And so if you are stopping all of those conversations and only speaking with people who have similar experiences and opinions, you’re not going to grow, ever, and you won’t change your mind or your opinion.

They used to tell us, don’t talk about religion and politics. The problem today is that everything is religion and politics. (If you are disconnected from politics, others will decide for you, and you cannot blame but yourself)

So what’s the best approach to start a conversation that you know might end up in an argument?

First of all, a lot of conversations end in arguments these days. But when I’m sitting down with somebody, especially somebody with whom I absolutely don’t agree, I sit down and I think through, “Okay, what if they’re right?”

Let’s think about what would change, and how my mind would change, if they are right and I am wrong.

And as they start to tell me things, as long as they’re not completely made-up facts, I ask myself what it would mean if they’re right. And then I ask them too. I say, “Okay, let’s say you’re right. What does that mean?” And try to get inside what they’re thinking.

For instance, a lot of people ask me how to talk to Donald Trump supporters. It is a great question.

But here’s the thing: there’s an anger there among people — not just people who support Trump, but people who support Bernie Sanders, or the people who voted for Britain to leave the EU.

There is an anger there, and it could be fascinating and engaging and compelling to figure out where that is coming from. That’s not always going to be the case, and there are going to be conversations you have to walk away from.

But if you’re going to have an argument with someone, the best way to do it is with an open mind, assuming that that person can teach you something, and that you’re not there to teach them.

What should you say if you unintentionally offend someone during a conversation?

You say, “I’m really sorry, I did not in any way, shape, or form intend to offend you. I may be inarticulate, but let me try to explain what I thought I was saying, and then you tell me what you think I’m saying, and maybe we can understand one another.” That’s it, that’s all that you say. Be honest.

Is there a quick way to help a friend to stop obsessing about a negative topic?

It’s difficult to address specific situations, since context is so important. In broad strokes, though, people often repeat themselves when they feel as though they haven’t been heard. For example, when we tell our kids something important and they don’t acknowledge that they’ve heard, we’ll keep repeating it until they say, “Okay! I got it, Mom!”

The same things happen often in the workplace.

So, try telling your friend that you think you understand what he or she is saying: “Let me tell you what I’m hearing and you tell me if I’m getting it wrong.”

Then you can offer to brainstorm to find solutions. If he or she’s not open to that, then be honest. Say, “You’re telling me the same things over and over. I can tell you’re very upset, but we can also move forward from here.”

How can you turn a one-way conversation into a dialogue?

You can’t, really. There’s a couple of reasons for a one-way conversation. Sometimes it’s that the person is shy, and in that case, that’s totally fixable, you can draw somebody out, usually by finding out what they like, or self-deprecation is good.

I usually tell a joke or a story about something I’ve done that was really stupid — and I have a wealth of those examples. But if somebody isn’t in the mood to talk, you can’t fix that.

And here’s the thing that people are always surprised that I say: it is totally okay to Not have a conversation.

Having a real conversation takes energy, and it takes focus, and sometimes you just don’t have that kind of energy to give. That’s totally fine — don’t have the conversation, enjoy the silence.

So if you’re feeling like you really want to have a conversation and the other person isn’t matching that energy, you just need to let them have their time, and find somebody else who is ready.

What about when people really don’t seem to want to listen, but just want to talk about themselves and their experiences?

I’ve found that it’s good to very kindly address this head-on. Say, “It’s so great to hear all that. Can I tell you a little about what I’ve been doing?” Or any version of that.

Don’t assume that person is just trying to dominate the conversation. Give them the benefit of the doubt, because we all talk about ourselves too much.

If you try to improve the conversation and they are resistant, then just accept that your conversations with that person will be brief and unsatisfying. Just like a game of catch, you need two participants who are willing to take turns.

How do you get others to open up as much as you are opening up?

You can’t, really. For instance, when you’re opening up, is it mostly because you’re telling them about your experiences? Are you talking a lot about yourself, and not giving them an opening to talk about themselves?

Are you in any way, shape or form shutting down the conversation? In other words, does that person say, “Oh, you know, I had something similar happen to me the other day, it was really, really interesting,” and you say, “Oh, no, no, no, it wasn’t like that,” and then you go back to what it was you were talking about.

There are a million reasons why the person that you’re talking to may not be opening up. But often, it’s because you’ve shut the door in one way or another. The fact of the matter is it’s probably not them, it’s probably you.

So what if a conversation has run its course? How do you gracefully exit a conversation?

You gracefully exit by saying, “I need to go; it’s been so great to talk to you, and I’ll see you in a couple days.” Or you say, “You know what? I have too much on my mind, I’m really sorry, it’s been great to talk to you, and I’ll see you again in a couple weeks, but I’m going to head back.”

Or — what happens to me, because I have adult ADD all the time — “I can’t keep my mind on this conversation, I am so sorry, it has nothing to do with you, but I’m going to go sit in my office and try to gather my thoughts.” Don’t lie. No white lies! Just be honest, and gracious and nice, not condescending, and just end the conversation.

This is an edited version of a conversation took place at TEDSummit 2017 (see below). Moderated by TED’s Janet Lee, it includes questions from Facebook and from commenters on Celeste’s TED Talk, 10 ways to have a better conversation.

How a great conversation is like a game of catch

Jul 19, 2016

As a radio host, Celeste Headlee has engaged in her fair share of discussions, and she’s thought a lot about how to bring out the best in a conversational counterpart.

One thing she likes to say: A good conversation is like a game of catch.

When you play catch, you have to do an equal number of catches and throws, right? It’s not possible to play catch with somebody and throw more than you catch, for the most part.

Because then you’d just be throwing baseballs at them, which is not nice. This is the exact same ratio as a healthy conversation — you’re going to catch as much as you throw.

you’re going to talk 50% percent and listen 50% percent — and we don’t generally have that balance in our conversations.

TED

Here’s the best way to start a conversation that you’re worried might end in an argument:

There’s a great study out of Harvard in which researchers discovered that talking about yourself actually activates the same pleasure centers in your brain as sex and cocaine.

That means it’s very pleasurable to us to talk about ourselves and what we like. You could walk away from a conversation like that and feel fantastic about it.

But remember — talking about yourself makes you feel fantastic. So you may have just walked away from a conversation in which you talked about yourself — that was awesome! — and the other person is walking away going, “Good god, that person would not stop talking about themselves.”

It’s a totally different perception, so you’ve got to remember you’re playing catch — find the balance.

How do you go beyond small talk to have a meaningful conversation with somebody?

Not every single conversation that you have is going to be in-depth and serious. And that’s okay! You should relax. Eventually, while you’re sitting there talking small talk, something’s going to pique your interest, or something’s going to catch their interest, or they’re going to say, “Wait, what did you just say?” Or, “Why is it that way?”

And someone’s going to ask a question, and it’s going to lead you further into deeper subject matter. So it will happen, if there’s something there to talk about. Otherwise, be on your way — let it go.

What about that awkward silence when you don’t know what to say next?

By the time that you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated. So by the time you’ve reached an awkward silence, something’s already gone wrong. But it’s not too late!

Very often, an awkward silence comes because either you weren’t listening or they weren’t listening, and therefore, you guys have kind of meandered off-topic to where you’re at the opposite ends of a football field.

The way to fix that is to say, “You know what, I’m sorry, I got totally distracted. Where did we start? Can you help me out here? I was just following a train of thought about Cheetos, and I got totally lost.”

What should you do when it is very clear from body language that the other person is not listening?

End it. Again with the game of catch.

That’s the equivalent of me taking a ball and throwing it over my shoulder instead of to you. Why would you want to keep playing? You have to have an equal partner in a conversation. Otherwise, walk away.

You make the case that all experiences are not equal. Are you saying that empathy is not useful in a conversation? What should people do instead?

People always push back on this topic. Now, I’m not a psychiatrist or a psychologist, but I believe that most of us are motivated by empathy. You’re with your friend, and you want to say, “Oh, I do understand you, because I’ve been through something similar.”

But the truth is, you haven’t — you haven’t been through something the same.

You maybe have gone through something kind of similar, but the fact of the matter is that you’re a different person from your friend — so even if it was the exact same experience, even if you both almost went down on the Titanic, the way you experienced that is completely different. And these situations are most likely totally different.

So although it feels to you like you’re reaching out and giving empathy, what’s happening is that you’re talking about yourself again.

So you shouldn’t say, “I know how you feel”?

That’s the worst. You don’t know how they feel. They’re confiding in you, and all they want you to do is listen to them and say, “Wow, that sounds awful. There’s no way for me to understand what you’re going through, but you tell me what you need.”

What do you think is stopping people from having better, more meaningful conversations?

The elephant in the room is obviously polarization, and this is true not just in the United States, but I think Brexit and the migrant crisis in Europe tell us that it’s happening all over the world.

Oftentimes we’ll enter into a conversation, and somebody will say, “I’m voting for Trump in the fall.” Conversation over. You immediately say, “Nothing this person says is something I want to listen to, they have nothing to teach me,” and you end the conversation. And if the conversation does continue, you’re not actually listening to them.

That’s what is often ending conversations now.

We have stopped talking to people that we disagree with. We basically want to be able to curate and edit our conversations the same way that we curate and edit our social media. If we’re talking to somebody that we don’t want to hear from, we want to unfollow them like we do on Twitter.

The problem with that is that everybody knows something that you don’t. And so if you are stopping all of those conversations and only speaking with people who have similar experiences and opinions, you’re not going to grow, ever, and you won’t change your mind or your opinion.

They used to tell us, don’t talk about religion and politics. The problem today is that everything is religion and politics.

So what’s the best approach to start a conversation that you know might end up in an argument?

First of all, a lot of conversations end in arguments these days. But when I’m sitting down with somebody, especially somebody with whom I absolutely don’t agree, I sit down and I think through, “Okay, what if they’re right?”

Let’s think about what would change, and how my mind would change, if they are right and I am wrong. And as they start to tell me things, as long as they’re not completely made-up facts, I ask myself what it would mean if they’re right. And then I ask them too. I say, “Okay, let’s say you’re right. What does that mean?” And try to get inside what they’re thinking.

For instance, a lot of people ask me how to talk to Donald Trump supporters. It is a great question.

But here’s the thing: there’s an anger there among people — not just people who support Trump, but people who support Bernie Sanders, or the people who voted for Britain to leave the EU.

There is an anger there, and it could be fascinating and engaging and compelling to figure out where that is coming from. That’s not always going to be the case, and there are going to be conversations you have to walk away from.

But if you’re going to have an argument with someone, the best way to do it is with an open mind, assuming that that person can teach you something, and that you’re not there to teach them.

What should you say if you unintentionally offend someone during a conversation?

You say, “I’m really sorry, I did not in any way, shape, or form intend to offend you. I may be inarticulate, but let me try to explain what I thought I was saying, and then you tell me what you think I’m saying, and maybe we can understand one another.” That’s it, that’s all that you say. Be honest.

Is there a quick way to help a friend to stop obsessing about a negative topic?

It’s difficult to address specific situations, since context is so important. In broad strokes, though, people often repeat themselves when they feel as though they haven’t been heard. For example, when we tell our kids something important and they don’t acknowledge that they’ve heard, we’ll keep repeating it until they say, “Okay! I got it, Mom!”

The same things happen often in the workplace.

So, try telling your friend that you think you understand what he or she is saying: “Let me tell you what I’m hearing and you tell me if I’m getting it wrong.”

Then you can offer to brainstorm to find solutions. If he or she’s not open to that, then be honest. Say, “You’re telling me the same things over and over. I can tell you’re very upset, but we can also move forward from here.”

How can you turn a one-way conversation into a dialogue?

You can’t, really. There’s a couple of reasons for a one-way conversation. Sometimes it’s that the person is shy, and in that case, that’s totally fixable, you can draw somebody out, usually by finding out what they like, or self-deprecation is good. I usually tell a joke or a story about something I’ve done that was really stupid — and I have a wealth of those examples. But if somebody isn’t in the mood to talk, you can’t fix that.

And here’s the thing that people are always surprised that I say: it is totally okay to not have a conversation. Having a real conversation takes energy, and it takes focus, and sometimes you just don’t have that kind of energy to give. That’s totally fine — don’t have the conversation, enjoy the silence.

So if you’re feeling like you really want to have a conversation and the other person isn’t matching that energy, you just need to let them have their time, and find somebody else who is ready.

What about when people really don’t seem to want to listen, but just want to talk about themselves and their experiences?

I’ve found that it’s good to very kindly address this head-on. Say, “It’s so great to hear all that. Can I tell you a little about what I’ve been doing?” Or any version of that.

Don’t assume that person is just trying to dominate the conversation. Give them the benefit of the doubt, because we all talk about ourselves too much. If you try to improve the conversation and they are resistant, then just accept that your conversations with that person will be brief and unsatisfying. Just like a game of catch, you need two participants who are willing to take turns.

How do you get others to open up as much as you are opening up?

You can’t, really. For instance, when you’re opening up, is it mostly because you’re telling them about your experiences? Are you talking a lot about yourself, and not giving them an opening to talk about themselves?

Are you in any way, shape or form shutting down the conversation? In other words, does that person say, “Oh, you know, I had something similar happen to me the other day, it was really, really interesting,” and you say, “Oh, no, no, no, it wasn’t like that,” and then you go back to what it was you were talking about.

There are a million reasons why the person that you’re talking to may not be opening up. But often, it’s because you’ve shut the door in one way or another. The fact of the matter is it’s probably not them, it’s probably you.

So what if a conversation has run its course? How do you gracefully exit a conversation?

You gracefully exit by saying, “I need to go; it’s been so great to talk to you, and I’ll see you in a couple days.” Or you say, “You know what? I have too much on my mind, I’m really sorry, it’s been great to talk to you, and I’ll see you again in a couple weeks, but I’m going to head back.”

Or — what happens to me, because I have adult ADD all the time — “I can’t keep my mind on this conversation, I am so sorry, it has nothing to do with you, but I’m going to go sit in my office and try to gather my thoughts.” Don’t lie. No white lies! Just be honest, and gracious and nice, not condescending, and just end the conversation.

This is an edited version of a conversation took place at TEDSummit 2017 (see below). Moderated by TED’s Janet Lee, it includes questions from Facebook and from commenters on Celeste’s TED Talk, 10 ways to have a better conversation.

How often you felt the conversation was worth recording?

When your job hinges on how well you talk to people, you learn a lot about how to have conversations — and that most of us don’t converse very well.

Celeste Headlee has worked as a radio host for decades, and she knows the ingredients of a great conversation: Honesty, brevity, clarity and a healthy amount of listening. In this insightful talk, she shares 10 useful rules for having better conversations. “Go out, talk to people, listen to people,” she says. “And, most importantly, be prepared to be amazed.”

All right, I want to see a show of hands: how many of you have unfriended someone on Facebook because they said something offensive about politics or religion, childcare, food?

And how many of you know at least one person that you avoid because you just don’t want to talk to them?

00:31 You know, it used to be that in order to have a polite conversation, we just had to follow the advice of Henry Higgins in “My Fair Lady“: Stick to the weather and your health. But these days, with climate change and anti-vaxxing, those subjects are not safe either.

So this world that we live in, this world in which every conversation has the potential to devolve into an argument, where our politicians can’t speak to one another and where even the most trivial of issues have someone fighting both passionately for it and against it, it’s not normal.

Pew Research did a study of 10,000 American adults, and they found that at this moment, we are more polarized, we are more divided, than we ever have been in history. We’re less likely to compromise, which means we’re not listening to each other.

And we make decisions about where to live, who to marry and even who our friends are going to be, based on what we already believe. Again, that means we’re not listening to each other.

A conversation requires a balance between talking and listening, and somewhere along the way, we lost that balance.

Now, part of that is due to technology.

The smartphones that you all either have in your hands or close enough that you could grab them really quickly. According to Pew Research, about a third of American teenagers send more than a hundred texts a day.

And many of them, almost most of them, are more likely to text their friends than they are to talk to them face to face.

There’s this great piece in The Atlantic. It was written by a high school teacher named Paul Barnwell. And he gave his kids a communication project. He wanted to teach them how to speak on a specific subject without using notes.

And he said this: “I came to realize that conversational competence might be the single most overlooked skill we fail to teach. Kids spend hours each day engaging with ideas and each other through screens, but rarely do they have an opportunity to hone their interpersonal communications skills. It might sound like a funny question, but we have to ask ourselves: Is there any 21st-century skill more important than being able to sustain coherent, confident conversation?”

I make my living talking to people: Nobel Prize winners, truck drivers, billionaires, kindergarten teachers, heads of state, plumbers. I talk to people that I like. I talk to people that I don’t like. I talk to some people that I disagree with deeply on a personal level. But I still have a great conversation with them. So I’d like to spend the next 10 minutes or so teaching you how to talk and how to listen.

Many of you have already heard a lot of advice on this, things like look the person in the eye, think of interesting topics to discuss in advance, look, nod and smile to show that you’re paying attention, repeat back what you just heard or summarize it. So I want you to forget all of that. It is crap.

There is no reason to learn how to show you’re paying attention if you are in fact paying attention.

I actually use the exact same skills as a professional interviewer that I do in regular life. So, I’m going to teach you how to interview people, and that’s actually going to help you learn how to be better conversationalists. Learn to have a conversation without wasting your time, without getting bored, and, please God, without offending anybody.

We’ve all had really great conversations. We’ve had them before. We know what it’s like. The kind of conversation where you walk away feeling engaged and inspired, or where you feel like you’ve made a real connection or you’ve been perfectly understood. There is no reason why most of your interactions can’t be like that.

So I have 10 basic rules.

I’m going to walk you through all of them, but honestly, if you just choose one of them and master it, you’ll already enjoy better conversations.

Number one: Don’t multitask. And I don’t mean just set down your cell phone or your tablet or your car keys or whatever is in your hand. I mean, be present. Be in that moment. Don’t think about your argument you had with your boss. Don’t think about what you’re going to have for dinner. If you want to get out of the conversation, get out of the conversation, but don’t be half in it and half out of it.

Number two: Don’t pontificate. If you want to state your opinion without any opportunity for response or argument or pushback or growth, write a blog.

Now, there’s a really good reason why I don’t allow pundits on my show: Because they’re really boring. If they’re conservative, they’re going to hate Obama and food stamps and abortion. If they’re liberal, they’re going to hate big banks and oil corporations and Dick Cheney. Totally predictable. And you don’t want to be like that.

You need to enter every conversation assuming that you have something to learn. The famed therapist M. Scott Peck said that true listening requires a setting aside of oneself. And sometimes that means setting aside your personal opinion. He said that sensing this acceptance, the speaker will become less and less vulnerable and more and more likely to open up the inner recesses of his or her mind to the listener. Again, assume that you have something to learn.

Bill Nye: “Everyone you will ever meet knows something that you don’t.” I put it this way: Everybody is an expert in something.

Number three: Use open-ended questions. In this case, take a cue from journalists. Start your questions with who, what, when, where, why or how. If you put in a complicated question, you’re going to get a simple answer out.

If I ask you, “Were you terrified?” you’re going to respond to the most powerful word in that sentence, which is “terrified,” and the answer is “Yes, I was” or “No, I wasn’t.” “Were you angry?” “Yes, I was very angry.” Let them describe it. They’re the ones that know. Try asking them things like, “What was that like?” “How did that feel?” Because then they might have to stop for a moment and think about it, and you’re going to get a much more interesting response.

Number four: Go with the flow. That means thoughts will come into your mind and you need to let them go out of your mind. We’ve heard interviews often in which a guest is talking for several minutes and then the host comes back in and asks a question which seems like it comes out of nowhere, or it’s already been answered.

That means the host probably stopped listening two minutes ago because he thought of this really clever question, and he was just bound and determined to say that. And we do the exact same thing.

We’re sitting there having a conversation with someone, and then we remember that time that we met Hugh Jackman in a coffee shop. And we stop listening. Stories and ideas are going to come to you. You need to let them come and let them go.

Number five: If you don’t know, say that you don’t know. Now, people on the radio, especially on NPR, are much more aware that they’re going on the record, and so they’re more careful about what they claim to be an expert in and what they claim to know for sure. Do that. Err on the side of caution. Talk should not be cheap.

Number six: Don’t equate your experience with theirs. If they’re talking about having lost a family member, don’t start talking about the time you lost a family member. If they’re talking about the trouble they’re having at work, don’t tell them about how much you hate your job. It’s not the same. It is never the same. All experiences are individual. And, more importantly, it is not about you. You don’t need to take that moment to prove how amazing you are or how much you’ve suffered. Somebody asked Stephen Hawking once what his IQ was, and he said, “I have no idea. People who brag about their IQs are losers.”

Conversations are not a promotional opportunity.

Number seven: Try not to repeat yourself. It’s condescending, and it’s really boring, and we tend to do it a lot. Especially in work conversations or in conversations with our kids, we have a point to make, so we just keep rephrasing it over and over. Don’t do that.

Number eight: Stay out of the weeds. Frankly, people don’t care about the years, the names, the dates, all those details that you’re struggling to come up with in your mind. They don’t care. What they care about is you. They care about what you’re like, what you have in common. So forget the details. Leave them out.

Number nine: This is not the last one, but it is the most important one. Listen. I cannot tell you how many really important people have said that listening is perhaps the most, the number one most important skill that you could develop. Buddha said, and I’m paraphrasing, “If your mouth is open, you’re not learning.” And Calvin Coolidge said, “No man ever listened his way out of a job.”

Why do we not listen to each other?

Number one, we’d rather talk. When I’m talking, I’m in control. I don’t have to hear anything I’m not interested in. I’m the center of attention. I can bolster my own identity.

But there’s another reason: We get distracted. The average person talks at about 225 word per minute, but we can listen at up to 500 words per minute. So our minds are filling in those other 275 words.

And look, I know, it takes effort and energy to actually pay attention to someone, but if you can’t do that, you’re not in a conversation. You’re just two people shouting out barely related sentences in the same place.

You have to listen to one another. Stephen Covey said it very beautifully. He said, “Most of us don’t listen with the intent to understand. We listen with the intent to reply.”

One more rule, number 10, and it’s this one: Be brief.

[A good conversation is like a miniskirt; short enough to retain interest, but long enough to cover the subject. — My Sister]

All of this boils down to the same basic concept, and it is this one: Be interested in other people.

You know, I grew up with a very famous grandfather, and there was kind of a ritual in my home. People would come over to talk to my grandparents, and after they would leave, my mother would come over to us, and she’d say, “Do you know who that was? She was the runner-up to Miss America. He was the mayor of Sacramento. She won a Pulitzer Prize. He’s a Russian ballet dancer.”

And I kind of grew up assuming everyone has some hidden, amazing thing about them. And honestly, I think it’s what makes me a better host. I keep my mouth shut as often as I possibly can, I keep my mind open, and I’m always prepared to be amazed, and I’m never disappointed.

11:27 You do the same thing. Go out, talk to people, listen to people, and, most importantly, be prepared to be amazed.

Celeste Headlee. Writer and radio host
Years of interview experience gives her a unique perspective on what makes for a good conversation. Full bio

“Life is Beautiful. It was not meant for me”

I don’t have friends. Not a single one.

Occasionally, I’m in the mood of chatting and lend a careful ear, a behavior that encourages the talker to open up in matters that I didn’t expect to hear, and frankly didn’t care.

For most of my life, I didn’t have the patience to listen to people’s stories. Until one day in a coffee shop, 30 years ago, I listened intently to a tall US girl whom I used to occasionally meet at the International Students administration of the university.

She was discussing her thesis, and on a whim I decided to focus on her subject matter and I asked pertinent questions. (I am an experimental design minded person). For once, I didn’t go on tangents in order to avoid the real conversation. She was very impressed and said: “You always gave me the impression of a shallow person. I was wrong.

She was not wrong and she was not off the mark: This conversation was a rare exception to my behavior, but it opened up my eyes on what constitute a “conversation” and the power of intently listening that is the main ingredient in a conversation.

The truth is that I was going through a difficult time, as was usually the case most of my life. A conversing sexy goat would have imputed the same reaction in me.

I’m having a conversation with Zikar, a total stranger to me, whom I met in a cocktail party, and who looked disoriented, bored and as aloof as I was.

Zikar is similar to me on these occasions, unless a pretty girl takes the initiative to approach me in my corner, barely sipping on my glass and my eyes roving over this curious general audience and contemplating the schmoozing assembly.

Zikar said: “Do you think life is beautiful?”

My surprised silence sent him into an expanded explanation. Zikar resumed:

“You see, it is the feedback from what I see and hear in the movies and social platforms that give me the feeling that life seems to be beautiful and exciting. If I had to rely on my personal experiences, I think that this life sucks and was not meant for me.”

I asked Zikar: “Have you been abroad for some time?”

“Yes, I have been to many places and countries and lived there for many years.”

I asked: “Have you been trekking, climbing mountains, crossing rivers, swimming in oceans…”

“Yes. I did all these activities”

I said: “And all these experiences were not good enough to appreciate life?”

Zikar quickly replied: “All the emotions in these experiences were skin deep and never touched my inner core. You see, I have no talent in anything. And I’m not the artistic kind of person to appreciate work of arts in painting, music, acting, theater production and design…

I cannot distinguish the details and variations in work of arts and unable to discuss to give any useful opinion on work of arts. I didn’t acquire the taste for luxury and luxury items. Just the frugal type who is amazed that I could wake up and go about the day for so many years.

You see, without talent I couldn’t acquire the passion to love anything that counts.”

I said: “Zikar, have you ever fallen in love?”

The answer was ready and Zikar said: “No. I don’t recollect falling in love.  My level of sensibility is not high enough to encounter ecstatic joy and acute emotional suffering. My imagination in matter of feeling is negligible.”

I asked: “Have you been visiting places in company of friends…”

Zikar’s answer was fast: “Never. Most of the times I toured, saw movies, visited zoos and and attended cultural events and walked the streets all alone.

I’m basically a bore. I swim but I’m no swimmer, I ski but I’m no skier. I’m good in mathematics but I’m no mathematician… I cannot join group activities in sports because I wear corrective glasses and my experiences since the age of 12 was prohibitive in replacing my broken glasses”

I said: “Have you ever attempted Zikar to make an effort to learn a talent?’

Zikar answer was prompt: “Yes. I invested plenty of time and effort to learn a few talents: I knew that my old age will be catastrophic if I fail to get passionate about an artistic field. But it was too late. I didn’t feel I had any innate skills for any artistic field and was mostly the joke of the class.

You see, no one in my family was an artist or appreciated arts.  And there were no extra-curriculum activities in all the schools that I attended, not even end of year play or group activities.

Definitely, most of my emotional energies are pretty shallow and I didn’t feel a catalytic drive to love life as talented people seem to engage in…

You see, I’m mainly a mental person, though I don’t think that I am rational in my decisions.

I learned 3 languages because events and schools forced on me to learn these languages. However, outside verbal languages, I don’t know any of the other kinds of languages like sign language, music, body language…”

My conversation with Zikar took place 3 years ago, and I had completely forgot how he looked.

A joint acquaintance with Zikar who might have thought that I am a close friend of Zikar called me yesterday. He said: “Al 3awad bi salamtak. And may God be compassionate with Zikar. He passed away. He jumping from a three floor building”.

Zikar had left a short note before committing suicide that read:

“It seems that life is beautiful. It was not meant for me and for many billion human like me. The idea of ending my life was not the problem. I couldn’t figure out the proper method not to hurt my relatives, get people in trouble, or be a problem for people to collect my body and waste their nerves and energy on my final departure, like jumping in front of a car and let the driver go through many horror scenes and decisions on a stupid stranger.”

Note: The title jumped into my mind and I had to weave a short story around that idea.

Instead of an essay, however funny and loaded with humor the essay may be, a short story convey better the message and reaches deeper into the consciousness. Especially, when most of the story evolves around a conversation and the main external character represents the topic.

I like to call this genre of essays “Charessay“, from Character Essay, with an attached word association of  “I say caress me?”

Music is a Language: Does the brain works in the same way for all kinds of languages?

For the better part of the past decade, Mark Kirby has been pouring drinks and booking gigs at the 55 Bar in New York City’s Greenwich Village.

The cozy dive bar is a neighborhood staple for live jazz that opened on the eve of Prohibition in 1919.

It was the year Congress agreed to give American women the right to vote, and jazz was still in its infancy.

Nearly a century later, the den-like bar is an anchor to the past in a city that’s always changing.

 published in The Atlantic this Feb. 19 2014:

How Brains See Music as Language

A new Johns Hopkins study looks at the neuroscience of jazz and the power of improvisation.
For Kirby, every night of work offers the chance to hear some of the liveliest jazz improvisation in Manhattan, an experience that’s a bit like overhearing a great conversation.
“There is overlapping, letting the other person say their piece, then you respond,” Kirby told me. “Threads are picked up then dropped. There can be an overall mood and going off on tangents.”

The idea that jazz can be a kind of conversation has long been an area of interest for Charles Limb, an otolaryngological surgeon at Johns Hopkins. Limb, a musician himself, decided to map what was happening in the brains of musicians as they played.

He and a team of researchers conducted a study that involved putting a musician in a functional MRI machine with a keyboard, and having him play a memorized piece of music and then a made-up piece of music as part of an improvisation with another musician in a control room.

What researchers found:

1. The brains of jazz musicians who are engaged with other musicians in spontaneous improvisation show robust activation in the same brain areas traditionally associated with spoken language and syntax.

In other words, improvisational jazz conversations “take root in the brain as a language,” Limb said.

“It makes perfect sense,” said Ken Schaphorst, chair of the Jazz Studies Department at the New England Conservatory in Boston. “I improvise with words all the time—like I am right now—and jazz improvisation is really identical in terms of the way it feels. Though it’s difficult to get to the point where you’re comfortable enough with music as a language where you can speak freely.”

2. Along with the limitations of musical ability, there’s another key difference between jazz conversation and spoken conversation that emerged in Limb’s experiment.

During a spoken conversation, the brain is busy processing the structure and syntax of language, as well the semantics or meaning of the words. But Limb and his colleagues found that brain areas linked to meaning shut down during improvisational jazz interactions. In other words, this kind of music is syntactic but it’s not semantic.

“Music communication, we know it means something to the listener, but that meaning can’t really be described,” Limb said. “It doesn’t have propositional elements or specificity of meaning in the same way a word does. So a famous bit of music—Beethoven’s dun dun dun duuuun—we might hear that and think it means something but nobody could agree what it means.”

So if music is a language without set meaning, what does that tell us about the nature of music?

3. “The answer to that probably lies more in figuring out what the nature of language is than what the nature of music is,” said Mike Pope, a Baltimore-based pianist and bassist who participated in the study.

When you’re talking about something, you’re not thinking about how your mouth is moving and you’re not thinking about how the words are spelled and you’re not thinking about grammar. With music, it’s the same thing.”

Pope says even improvisational jazz is built around a framework that musicians understand. This structure is similar to the way we use certain rules in spoken conversation to help us intuit when it’s time to say “nice to meet you,” or how to read social clues that signal an encounter is drawing to a close.

4. “In most jazz performances, things are not nearly as random as people would think,” Pope said. “If I want to be a good bass player and I want to fill the role, idiomatically and functionally, that a bass player’s supposed to fulfill, I have to act within the confines of certain acceptable parameters. I have to make sure I’m playing roots on the downbeat every time the chord changes. It’s all got to swing.”

5. But Limb believes his finding suggests something even bigger, something that gets at the heart of an ongoing debate in his field about what the human auditory system is for in the first place.

“If the brain evolved for the purpose of speech, it’s odd that it evolved to a capacity way beyond speech,” Limb said. “So a brain that evolved to handle musical communication—there has to be a relationship between the two. I have reason to suspect that the auditory brain may have been designed to hear music and speech is a happy byproduct.”

Back in New York City, where the jazz conversation continues at 55 Bar almost every night, bartender Kirby makes it sound simple: “In jazz, there is no lying and very little misunderstanding.”

Addiction must be dissociated from the notion of Habit

Last night I had this conversation with myself.

For the dialogue to get interesting, I opted to be talking with an imaginary beautiful and thoughtful woman.

It’s cold and I decided to get in bed early.  I’m not sleepy and weaved this conversation.

I have realized lately that waking up in the morning requires from me too much work and determination: I don’t want to get up from my warm bed and face another day loaded with the same activities and chores, with no open horizon to dream of.

I wouldn’t mind staying in bed until I feel bored from bed. And I reached a tacit understanding with mother Not to wake me up before 8: 30 am, as the sun is shining and the weather is warmer.

It is supposed to be winter, but this year is as sunny as summer time, but dry and cold by the evening. For my conversation, I invented a situation where I could afford to hire a beautiful and energetic helper.

She is to be good in mechanics and electricity and an excellent handy woman and drives safely. I’m thinking: “I’ll suggest to my soft spoken helper to give me in order to wake up a vigorous rub over the bed cover and ruffle thoroughly my hair, listening to a calm classical music and my helper whispering: “All the people you will be meeting with today are gentle person, they have an acute sense of humor and are very compassionate types…”

The day comes when she blurted out: “I feel that you no longer mind waking up” The irony was not lost on me and I replied: “The new process of waking up has turned up to be efficient”

She said: “Habits are the secrets to what we like, can suffer, and are

I suggested: “May be it is the idea that we like a certain habit that makes it endearing”

She retorted softly: “We have no conscious idea how we build a habit, and when we realize that it has become a habit, we start to imagine all kinds of advantageous excuses and reasons for sticking to the habit”

I tend to agree with her statement, but I wanted to linger in that conversation and said: “I’m a smoker and I recall that the first time I tried a cigarette, it had the nastiest taste I could imagine. Go figure. I didn’t like the cigarette, but I might have liked the idea that “cool people around me are smokers

She said: “In my mind, habit has a good connotation, like hard working, perseverance, consistency, compassionate, tending to details…These kinds of good habits”

She resumed with some vehemence: “It is a shame that we attach the notion of habit to addiction. A good writer should confront this linkage and association and invent new words and terms more suited to addiction and conserve the good connotation of habit.”

I admit that we live out of sets of habits and we are what our habits are. Addiction should be a subsidiary factor that may define who we are.


adonis49

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