Conversation Classes (for myself) #1 – Your Opinions Aren’t As Interesting As You Think

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If you speak more words than you read, you’ve failed the art of good conversation.

I’ve noticed a certain bad conversational habit that all-too-often seems to plague the voracious reader or well-informed individual, which is the temptation to talk far too much at the expense of allowing others to contribute to the conversation.

The result is that you seem arrogant, opinionated, and at worst boring, the highest conversational sin of all.

I love reading and learning, and I’m one of those people who enjoys having an opinion on just about any subject – movies, Nobel Prizes, music piracy, the Hadron Collider, philosophers I love and hate, the state of literature, the robot armageddon – just about any subject can delight me so long at it doesn’t involve the Latinate etymology of common garden flower names or county cricket league tables.

But that doesn’t mean I know about everything – and sometimes it’s too late before I’m aware I should just shut up more and let other people talk.

Offering frequent and strong opinions can be fun, but it can also be unbearably annoying.

In a normal dinner party conversation, I’ll overhear two people discussing a recent film and be itching to throw in my own strident opinion about whether the movie in question was utter dross or a work of outstanding genius.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with jumping in and getting involved in other people’s discussions. Using these conversational threads to pull yourself into another groups discussion is a pretty standard networking tool that can work wonders if you genuinely share a passion for what is being talked about. I’m all for the idea of speaking up and not hanging back on the sidelines.

But even in those cases, I’ve noticed that barging in with your opinions (and interrupting others) is rarely the way to win friends.

I now think of it like this: The best conversations are those that are an extension of your learning, not an excuse to show off your learning.

People respond so much more enthusiastically when you allow them to get as much of their side out as possible.

But too often we interrupt before someone even gets the chance, and, having barely even listened to their opinion, we butt in and jam our own thoughts down their throats.

We find ourselves rambling on full-throttle at a dinner party and imagine ourselves as a reincarnation of Oscar Wilde or Christopher Hitchens – raconteurs, celebrated wits, models of erudition and worldliness ­­– when everyone around us really thinks: When the hell is this guy going to stop talking?

It took me a long time to learn that just because you can contribute on every topic, doesn’t mean you have to say everything.

For the rest of the month, my personal challenge is simple: Don’t interrupt at all. Practice the art of letting others finish their entire thought before responding. And if I do give an opinion, follow up with the words “I’m fascinated to hear your take on it though, what’s your view?”

What’s your view? Let me know in the comments below!

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8 comments

  1. Patty · July 17, 2015

    This is a great challenge. I often find I get so into the conversation and excited about the topic that I am guilty of interrupting. You’ve given me something to think about in future conversations. Great post!

    Like

  2. Jeri C. · July 17, 2015

    I shall quote from this at the next dinner party to show prowess in the art of… wait that wasn’t the point was it.
    Great idea, I shall use my ears and really listen, thank you.

    Like

  3. michellen778 · July 27, 2015

    Great challenge. I’ve put myself in this “challenge” from years ago and never left off even though it’s not easy. I listen throughout every conversation and make sure my voice and views and issues aren’t dominating. I try to ask people a lot of questions as an end in of itself. I’m sure you’ll find people feel you care about them more this month. Good idea. And nice to find another blog of yours btw! I just wanted to comment.

    Like

  4. TJ · July 23, 2016

    This is a great challenge and I will start it immediately. I am so at fault of this. Great read.

    Like

  5. Catherine Martinez · December 14

    It is definitely great advice everyone should take in their daily heart to heart conversations with others. By not allowing yourself to listen to others you might lose learning something important about that person or gaining some new insight on a topic or seeing a different perspective. Great read Stephen, thanks, and thanks for asking!!

    Like

  6. Catherine · December 15

    It is definitely important to never forget to do this when you are having a heart to heart with someone. It definitely makes that conversation much more meaningful when what each person says is being valued. By doing this you might learn more of that person, gain a new perspective, and learn something new. Thanks for the post Stephen and thanks for asking!

    Like

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