Wednesday, July 19, 2017

     Three seconds. Three minutes.  Sixteen hours. Can you do it? I challenge you, and I will try it myself. Can you engage in a conversation with someone without mentioning yourself? No, “I,” no “me,” “my,” “our,” or anything that has to do with yourself. We are not even allowed an “I agree with you.” This is called “The Vow of Self Silence.” It was the title of a friend’s speech at my Toastmaster chapter last night. Her speech was spot on. Everything she said resonated with me, as I sat listening to her reasons for not turning everyone else’s conversation around to yourself. Let’s try it just for today. If we cannot do it, then we need to take a good look at our listening and speaking skills. 

     She contends that by silencing ourselves, we learn more, we are less self-centered, and we become more calm, as we aren’t focused on expanding the conversation to ourselves. How many times have you tried to talk to someone who consistently turns the conversation around to herself? How often do people step on you while you’re trying to tell a story? How many times have you lost your train of thought because someone else jumped in and told a ten-minute story with minimal connection to what you were saying?

     This issue has been one of my great pet peeves for a long time. I try so hard to listen attentively and not interrupt. I always try to keep the attention on the speaker, but I am human, and sometimes I direct the conversation towards something I shared with the speaker. Somewhere in my past, I think I was taught to relate what the speaker is saying to something I share with him or her. This ostensibly creates a bond. Well, maybe notsomuch. My friend contends that it does the opposite, and I agree with her to a point.

     When I am talking about my fabulous trip out west where Mr. Wonderful and I hiked six National Parks, drove top down in our sports car for 9000 miles and ran into a tropical storm on the way home, I really don’t want to hear about when you rented an RV in 1964 and took the same trip with your two dogs and three toddlers. Hello. It was not the same trip; and your trip has absolutely nothing to do with ours. Your interrupting with that story makes mine feel unimportant and diminished. This kind of sharing is simply a disguised “one-up,” and to me, one-upping is rude.

     So when do we learn how to carry on a selfless conversation but one that still bonds with the speaker? We learn from example and from someone specifically teaching us good manners and respect for others. We watch our parents, listen to how they interact with others, and we continue to do this with our elders as we grow up. They model it, and if we’re very lucky, it’s a good model. If we’re really lucky, our parents or teachers give us specific rules of engagement. If we’re not lucky, we are likely to become conversation bullies, and we aren’t even aware of it.

     I challenge you to 3 seconds, three minutes or, if you’re really brave, 16 hours of self silence. Let me know how this works for you. Let’s let the integrity of the speaker shine so we can walk away having learned something about them and about ourselves.