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The Gift of Gab
This week, we're sharing this timely essay on what it takes, and means, to be a good conversationalist.
Being isolated during the pandemic had its challenges, but it also had its appeal for many of us. The freedom from social pressures enabled those who are homebodies and introverts to (finally!) embrace their true selves without feeling ashamed. apologetic or embarrassed.
As the pandemic starts to make its way from our windshields into our rearview mirrors, our social lives are beginning to regain their footing. But first, the roads need some repaving and repair.
Reprinted with permission, “The Gift of Gab,” by our friend and colleague, Cindy La Ferle, was previously published in The Oakland Press.
Our social lives took a huge hit during the pandemic. We celebrated birthdays with drive-by parades, limited our holiday gatherings to small family bubbles, and even Zoomed memorial services.
While most national pandemic restrictions have been lifted, we’re still trying to navigate safer ways to gather with friends and loved ones. We’re also rediscovering how to talk to each other after a year of semi-isolation and social distancing.
A friend recently confided that her social skills feel a bit “rusty” now, especially when she meets new people at larger parties or work functions.
No wonder. Pandemic isolation forced us to rely primarily on social media and cell phones, leaving us bereft of body language and other social cues that are essential to three-dimensional conversation. In other words, we got used to talking at each other, rather than with each other.
In our defense, social media sites foster one-sided communication. Along with bragging rights, Facebook and Twitter give us full permission to talk about ourselves nonstop. We like to think we’re interacting with others, but in reality, we’re mostly fueling our addiction to the rush of dopamine we get whenever someone “likes” or comments on our posts.
Real conversation, on the other hand, is a balanced exchange that requires empathy and superb listening skills. It is not a monologue or a recital in which one person drones on about himself while the other person quietly nods (or tries not to yawn).
A good conversation leaves everyone feeling heard, understood and appreciated.
The give-and-take of social skills
The easiest way to refresh and improve our communication skills is to observe the folks who’ve mastered the gift of gab.
For starters, good conversationalists love to learn about other people. My father would always try to discover at least two new things about each person he met or hadn’t seen in a while. To achieve this, he focused on other people and listened carefully — instead of simply waiting for his turn to jump into the conversation. By focusing on others, he reminded me, you can overcome shyness and self-absorption.
Good conversationalists might share details about their own lives — but they always find a way to loop the conversation back to you. They’ll tell you about the week they spent mountain-climbing, for instance, but they’ll never forget to ask what you did on your summer vacation. As Dale Carnegie advised: “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years trying to get other people interested in you.”
Good conversationalists know that a sincere compliment is a great conversation starter. Again, this requires paying close attention to the positive qualities in others rather than worrying about your self-image.
Lastly, good conversationalists never boast or show off. They know that a great conversation is never a competition. Most of all, they understand that listening with an open mind opens a window to understanding a variety of people. No wonder we all enjoy their company.
Cindy La Ferle is a nationally published columnist and author of an essay collection, “Writing Home.” She blogs at Life Lines.
Real conversations between friends require a balanced exchange and good listening skills.
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