On Having a Conversation

Research shows that we are likely to interrupt another person on average every seventeen seconds before interrupting or interjecting our own ideas. If we are not interrupting another person we may be busy defending ourselves or fighting to be heard. Next time you are at the dinner table or in a meeting room, notice who is talking the most, notice who they are talking to, notice who they are blocking out, notice how they are talking. How often do the men interrupt the women? How often does a leader interrupt and talk over a staff member? Are there age differences in who is given visibility and permission to talk? Are there cultural differeces? How often do you interrupt, interject, or talk over another person? Is louder better? What are your values around conversation? 

Having a Quality Conversation Is About Equality, Not Power

Having a quality conversation is about equality, not power. Equality in a conversation involves revealing something about yourself to another person, being vulnerable. There is a give and take, an openness to the availability of another person. 

"My goal is to discover your thoughts and feelings. My objective is not to defend myself or set you straight. It is to understand you." Gary Chapman.

If you have grown up in homes where self revelation is punished, where having a voice is punished, you may learn to shut off your emotional life, you learn that it is dangerous or unnecessary to reveal yourself. Self protection becomes paramount. Punishment for having an emotional life can occur in many ways (bullying, neglect and irrelevance, differences in temperament, trivialisation) and can eventually lead to shutting down your emotional development. This leads to shutting down others.

How many of us as children felt that we should be “seen and not heard”?  How many of us were bullied as children? How many of us were put down by significant others? It takes time to feel comfortable revealing yourself, especially if you have been told to be silent, have had fight to be heard or defend yourself most of your life. One approach to getting used to the idea that openness to your emotions and those of others can add fabric and texture to life is to begin the emotional journey by having a conversation with the self.

Talking “with” Not “to” Another Person

A quality conversation is like a dance. We all know how it feels. There are periods of observation, one step goes forward, another step goes back, there is a separation and then a circle, we go high, we come together again and then move out exploring our own movements and sensations, there is humour…..…We come together again. How do we describe a laughing together? We cannot. A laugh is a laugh. How do we describe shared joy? We cannot. We can only experience it as mutual understanding.

Journaling Provides a Deeper Connection With Self and Others.

You can learn the art of being generous in conversation with others by first being generous with yourself. Through journaling, we begin to understand how we respond to our own thoughts and emotions and the emotional impact on others of our behaviour in conversations:

  • Monitoring your feelings of irritability, defensiveness, and aggressiveness with others in conversation. Reflect on your conversational behaviour during these times. Is it justified? Note in your journal.
  • Notice how often you secretly judge and label another person as “stupid”, “lazy”, “unattractive”. How is this played out in conversation?
  • Labels are often false, superficial, immediate and enduring. What is the basis for this judgement? How does this labelling effect your responses to this person? Is your behaviour justified? Note in your journal.
  • Notice how you feel when a person interrupts you, changes the subject, turns their back on you. What is happening in this conversation? Note in your journal.
  • Tape yourself having a conversation with another person; transcribe the conversation in your journal.
  • Notice the quality of the conversation: Is about power? Is it about equality and respect? Is it generous? Is it one sided? Is there positive emotion?
  • Are you ready to make changes towards a deeper connection with yourself and others in conversation?


Start to value yourself and others by noticing the quality of your conversations today.

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