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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 small talk can turn into smart conversation

Imagine almost any situation where two or more people are gathered—a wedding reception, a job interview, two off-duty cops hanging out in a Jacuzzi.

What do these situations have in common?

Almost all of them involve people trying to talk with each other. But in these very moments where a conversation would enhance an encounter, we often fall short.

We can’t think of a thing to say. (Especially riding in car, and expecting anyone to just ask you a question that is not coming)

Or worse, we do a passable job at talking. We stagger through our romantic, professional and social worlds with the goal merely of not crashing, never considering that we might soar.

We go home sweaty and puffy, and eat birthday cake in the shower.

We at What to Talk About headquarters set out to change this.

Below, a few tips for introverts (and everyone else) on how to turn small talk into big ideas at the next Social Obligation Involving Strangers:

Ask for stories, not answers

One way to get beyond small talk is to ask open-ended questions. Aim for questions that invite people to tell stories, rather than give bland, one-word answers.

(Note: The newly married girl expecting a child asked her dad in the car: How did you behave when mom was about to deliver and how often were you in the hospital witnessing the birth… And the father told many stories)

Instead of . . .
“How are you?”
“How was your day?”
“Where are you from?”
“What do you do?”
“What line of work are you in?”
“What’s your name?”
“How was your weekend?”
“What’s up?”
“Would you like some wine?”
“How long have you been living here?”

Try . . .
“What’s your story?”
“What did you do today?”
“What’s the strangest thing about where you grew up?”
“What’s the most interesting thing that happened at work today?”
“How’d you end up in your line of work?”
“What does your name mean? What would you like it to mean?”
“What was the best part of your weekend?”
“What are you looking forward to this week?”
“Who do you think is the luckiest person in this room?”
“What does this house remind you of?”
“If you could teleport by blinking your eyes, where would you go right now?”

Break the mirror

When small talk stalls out, it’s often due to a phenomenon we call “mirroring.” In our attempts to be polite, we often answer people’s questions directly, repeat their observations, or just blandly agree with whatever they say.

Mirrored example:
James: It’s a beautiful day!
John: Yes, it is a beautiful day!

See? By mirroring James’s opinion and language, John has followed the social norm, but he’s also paralyzed the discussion and missed a moment of fun.

Instead, John needs to practice the art of disruption and move the dialogue forward:

Non-mirrored example:
James: It’s a beautiful day!
John: They say that the weather was just like this when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. If that actually happened. (The odds is that the weather tomorrow will be as today?)

See? Now James and John are talking! Be provocative. Absurdity is underrated.

Leapfrog over the expected response

An even better way to break the boring-conversation mirror is to skip over the expected response, and go somewhere next-level:

Instead of :
Ron: How was your flight?
Carlos: My flight was good!

Beverly: It’s hot today.
Gino: Yeah, it sure is hot.

Riz: What’s up?
Keil: Hey, what’s up?

Try:
Ron: How was your flight?
Carlos: I’d be more intrigued by an airline where your ticket price was based on your body weight and IQ.

Beverly: It’s hot today.
Gino: In this dimension, yes.

Riz: What’s up?
Keil: Washing your chicken just splatters the bacteria everywhere.

Go ahead, be bold. Upend the dinner table conversation!

Turn small talk into big ideas at the next summer wedding reception you’re forced to attend! You never know which ideas will be worth spreading next.

This excerpt is adapted with permission from What to Talk About: On a Plane, at a Cocktail Party, in a Tiny Elevator with Your Boss’s Boss by Chris Colin and Rob Baedeker (Chronicle Books).

Patsy Z shared TED link, August 5 , 2015·
Tips from a comedian and a journalist on the art of going from small talk to big ideas. Try these out at the dinner table.
t.ted.com

Should Small talk be banned?

How small should be these talks?

What is your relationship with God? (That’s a characteristic example of futile small talk to me). What is something you fear in life?

These may be great topics for conversations, but we rarely tackle such meaty topics at social gatherings.

Instead, our discussions usually centre around summer travel plans, the latest home repair horror story and, of course, the weather. (What’s wrong with these topics?)

This is a shame, because research has confirmed what most people know but don’t practise: surface level small talk does not build relationships and it is not great for our happiness levels. (I beg to differ)

The obvious question: if it’s not that good for us, why does it prevail?

The sad answer is that we actively seek the lowest common denominator. When left to our own devices, we have the freedom to discuss what we want, but we also feel the pressure to pick a topic that will be socially acceptable and easy for anyone to participate in – the uninteresting hallmarks of small talk. (Do you discuss that freely within your tribe?)

To better understand this problem of social co-ordination and what we can do about it, we arranged a dinner party.

Usually dinner parties involve two social co-ordination problems.

The first is arrival times: if everyone arrives at different times, the party always seems to be in flux – “getting going” or “dying down”. (Do everyone knows that this dinner is meant for heavy discussion topics?)

The second is one of conversation topics: no single person will take the social risk of talking about complex personal issues with mere acquaintances. ( Au contraire: they are more open with strangers)

The alternative is surface chat that makes no lasting impression on anyone.

Daniel Pink shared this link. Yesterday at 12:59am ·

Hate small talk? Dan Ariely has a solution: A dinner party where guests must talk about only big, meaty issues.

wired.co.uk|By Kristen Berman  21 Sep 2016

According to a 2010 study by social anthropologist Kate Fox, in Britain, more than nine in ten people admit to having talked about the weather in the last six hours. Around 38 per cent say they’ve talked about it in the past hour.

And when was the last time you heard someone say, “I wish we had another 45 minutes to get into the weather in more depth”?

To help combat the problem of co-ordination, we added one simple variable to this dinner party – rules.

1) Show up between 7:30-8pm. If you can’t make 8pm, don’t come.

2) Absolutely no small talk. Only meaningful conversation is allowed. (They all will skip the 8 pm deadline)

These rules eliminated some individual freedoms in favour of better outcomes for everyone. Ninety per cent of invitees RSVPed within the day, many asking for clarification on the rules: “What exactly is small talk? Sports? Travel? My job?”

Not only were they curious about the rules, they liked having them – and nobody wanted to break them.

At 7:30pm, the night of the dinner party, we were sitting and waiting for the guests to arrive. At 7:45pm, we were nervous. No one had arrived. Guests had only 15 more minutes.

At 7:46pm, the doorbell rang. It did not stop until 7:54pm. 25 guests had arrived. The last two guests arrived at 8:05pm and, after some internal debate, we allowed them in. The benefit of having the whole group together from the start amplified the experience for everyone. (internal debate must be forbidden)

Next, the second rule was triggered. To help co-ordinate the conversation, we provided big index cards (now the fun can begin?) with examples of meaningful conversation starters.

The 27 gender-mixed guests discussed if and how to hold public officials accountable for their actions. We found out who (besides our significant other) would give up a kidney if we needed one. (To be meaningful, someone in the group must be needing a kidney)

We debated the theory of suicide prevention. We talked about the art of the dominatrix. (dominatrix? should every term be explained in the discussion?)

Midway, something interesting happened.

We hear: “Hey! Is that small talk?” The guests not only abided by the rules, but they also enforced them. Instead of decreasing freedom, people appeared freer to talk about the things they really wanted to talk about.

By establishing a common rule for behaviour we created an environment with a new set of social norms that redefined peoples’ best interests.

And everyone was happier. (Questionnaires were distributed?)

As added proof, two dates came out of the evening. Perhaps meaningful conversation also makes us more attractive?

The basic idea is that if every individual is free to act as they please, the combination of these individual behaviours might be sub-optimal for the group. (sub-optimal? Are we optimizing a production?)

This problem is clear in social gatherings, but it has other applications, such as for email.

Email is turned on 24-7. If we want to email a question on Saturday morning from the coffee shop, we have the freedom to hit send.

Even though our ability to get our question answered quickly benefits us in the short term, it is easy to see how this snowballs into a culture of compulsively checking email.

Outside of personal sacrifices made to stay on top of the continuous stream of email, this behaviour is detrimental – it distracts workers from their top priorities and could make the entire workplace move slower, not faster.

So what should we do? We could add co-ordination and create a new set of social norms. (Keep adding norms to reach the level of vomiting)

What if companies told people that email will only be delivered during just three pre-specified times? This would set the expectations of the senders, and reduce the need of the recipient to continuously monitor their email.

In situations where individuals normally have freedom, social co-ordination in some areas is likely to have surprising benefits. So at your next dinner party, remember the wine, the music and the rules.

Dan Ariely is James B Duke Professor of Psychology and Behavioural Economics at Duke University and Kristen Berman founded Irrational Labs, a non-profit behavioural consulting company, with Ariely.

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