Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Let’s Talk about Talking: Three Conversation Types for a Mutually Caring Relationship

I am grateful to Vikki Beat for our recent conversation at Caffe Nero which led to me writing this up.

It’s no secret that Fran and I spend a lot of time talking together but it took a while for me to recognise that not all conversations are the same. Different people have different ways of talking, of course, but aside from that there are distinct types of conversation depending on what the people involved need at the time. Here are three distinct types we have found useful. I’d love to know if they resonate for you – or if they don’t! Let’s talk!

“My Turn, Your Turn.”

This is the type of conversation that comes most naturally to me, whether face-to-face (in person or on a video call), on the telephone, or in online chat. It consists of short alternating exchanges, one person speaking for a moment or two then letting the other take a turn. It works well (at least for me) where you are “shooting the breeze”, making plans, or sharing things on a fairly surface-y level. What I had to learn is there are situations where it isn’t necessarily appropriate or helpful.

“It Will Be Your Turn in a Minute.”

The “my turn, your turn” approach doesn’t work for Fran if she is trying to share something detailed or important. From her point of view, my wanting to speak every minute or so means I am constantly interrupting her train of thought. Once interrupted, she finds it next to impossible to pick up again.

This was especially so early in our friendship when Fran was in mania. It was hard enough for her to slow her thoughts to a pace and into an order where she could share them with someone else. She needed me to let her speak for a while without interrupting. Then I could take my turn, whether to comment on what she had shared, ask a question, or take things in a new direction.

This felt very unnatural to me at first – and I still find it hard sometimes – but I’ve learned that slowing things down like this (essentially conversing in short monologues rather than exchanging sentences) can be incredibly valuable whether you have difficulties marshalling your thoughts or not.

“I Need to Talk Right Now.”

There are times when we want and need to just let the words flow, to “dump” (although I hate that expression), to express whatever it is we are feeling or thinking without being interrupted, questioned, or judged. It is what Thich Nhat Hahn has called deep listening:

Deep listening simply means listening with compassion. Even if the other person is full of wrong perceptions, discrimination, blaming, judging, and criticizing, you are still capable of sitting quietly and listening, without interrupting, without reacting. Because you know that if you can listen like that, the other person will feel enormous relief. You remember that you are listening with only one purpose in mind: to give the other person a chance to express themselves, because up until now no one has taken the time to listen. (Thich Nhat Hanh)

This is important work and carries a degree of responsibility. As the listener you may feel any number of things: pain, hurt, joy, pride, love, anger. You might yearn to interrupt with advice and suggestions. It’s okay. You get to feel it all – and you get to keep it to yourself. Your input, suggestions, and opinion may be welcome later but right now your role is to be wholly present, to STFU, and to listen. It is NOT easy. At least, I do not always find it so. Persevere. It is perhaps the greatest gift you can offer another human being.

Vikki and I joked how maybe we ought to make some flags we can hold up to let the other one know what type of conversation we want or need. That might be taking things a little too far (though it would be fun!) but it is important in any relationship that both people can express what they need in the moment. As far as conversation types go this can be as simple as holding up your hand to indicate you’ve not finished talking yet, or saying “I need you to listen right now while I get all this out, okay?” Our ability to do this – and to accept that we still sometimes get it wrong – is why Fran and I work so well.

When two people are open and honest with each other and come together to share words, space, and time, it can be a truly beautiful thing.

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.

~ Rumi

 

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