We need to relearn how to listen and chat. Human potential expert Beth Taska explains …

I was out to dinner with a friend of mine a bit ago. We sat in a cozy spot, at a table for two, right next to a couple who looked like this might just have been their first (and, most likely, their last) date. It was hard not to overhear (well, everything) they said, and certainly their actions were louder still.

They were a good-looking couple. Not exactly a couple per se, but two individuals that were independently striking. He had an MBA from some distinguished school and embarked on a promising investment career and she, although perhaps a bit overdone for the date, seemed successful in her own right. What I noticed, while I was trying to not notice, was that their art of conversation was, painful. They both had smart phones on the table, and they longingly or perhaps desperately darted furtive glances at their devices.

At various points in their short evening, they seemed not to be able to restrain themselves, and they would alternatively grab their phones and dash to the bathroom. Their conversation, when they were both at the table, comprised of bursts of biographical data. Very few questions were exchanged, let alone casual banter. One would give a timeline of life accomplishments. Then the other did. As one of them would “escape” to the bathroom, the other would immediately check his/her phone. Towards the end of their “date,” the young lady again went to the bathroom and the young many quickly ran to the bar, paid the bill and left.

He forgot, it seemed, to let her know.

She came back. Sat down. Looked around for him, and spent some time on her phone, sighed and left. She seemed not all that upset.

Of course, they could have been desperately ill-matched and no other outcome was likely.

Yet, what appeared to me is that we’re becoming not well practiced in conversational social skills, requiring an inquiry into someone else which necessitates allowing judgment to be delayed. From my voyeuristic perspective, the “couple” didn’t spend enough time trying to know each other, who the other person really was. Not at all. It felt more like watching Facebook updates being read aloud.

“We are training ourselves, I fear, out of the art of real conversation—of sitting quietly and listening to another person.”

The “problem” with conversation is that it’s unpredictable. You can’t read it over, and make it perfect, and then push send. Live conversation emerges and is created in real time as it happens. But this is also the incredible power of conversation. It is alive. It is vibrant. It is real. It is happening as it happens. And then, POOF! It’s gone, with no trace. It can’t be retweeted, reread, recorded (in most cases) or revised (except in our memories).

“Conversation is a continual state of being in the present moment, when we allow it to be.”

But in order for us to have these conversations, we have to hold a space of listening, a space of curiosity and acceptance of what will happen next. We can ask questions, but we cannot control answers. We can imagine what will be said and revealed, but nothing can be fully predicted.

Our online conversations give us a poor facsimile of being in relationship and communicating. They are soliloquies (one-sided statements) that are responded in kind, always in the past tense.

I wonder what would have happened to that couple if they committed to listening, with no distractions or thoughts of their phones. Of being in the moment, curious of the other, willing to give each other full and complete attention and the possibility of anything emerging, in unpredictable ways. At the very least, they may have departed as two people who looked into each other’s eyes and saw some truth and vulnerability, agreed to go separate ways, but not be so disassociated with themselves and each other that they would depart without even saying goodbye.

Put it in action

Become a better conversationalist. Here’s how to do it …

  • Put down your phone.
  • Put it away.
  • Shut it off.
  • Look someone in the eye.
  • Really, really listen.
  • Do not know what you will say next.
  • Be ok with this.
  • Speak from your heart.
  • Feel what that is like.
  • Let life unfold.

Photo credit: Thinkstock, iStock – Voyagerix.