What is “A Decent Conversation”?
Decent conversations have been front of mind for me for many years. Mainly due to my need for them, and for their conspicuous absence in most cases. Sure I get to have many interactions with people, but are those conversations? And moreover, are they “decent”?
In my most recent quickie I borrowed the term “decent” from the headline of the linked article.
Admittedly it’s a little vague. Let’s see if we can’t disambiguate a little.
For openers, a circular definition: For me, a decent conversation is one that meets my needs.
Which of course begs the question “What are my needs of a decent conversation?”. (Please prefix all the below with an implicit “For me…”).
A conversation is more that just two (or more) parties talking to each other. Or more often, at each other.
Conversations or exchanges involving simple assertions – for example “dogs are so cute” – fall short of “decent” conversations. Ditto for expression of opinion – for example, statements beginning “I think…”. I need interactions that involve supportive and mutual sense-making, not just airing of opinions.
While the word ‘sensemaking’ may have an informal, poetic flavour, that should not mask the fact that it is literally just what it says it is.
~ Karl Weick, 1995
Decent conversations must involve skilful listening, on the part of all participants. Expressly, listening for what’s “going on” with each other. Marshall Rosenberg describes this as “focussing on what’s alive, right now, in those participating”.
How often do you feel people are listening to you? That they’re interested in how you’re feeling and what you have to say? That by listening they’re connecting with you as a person? How often do you listen well enough that others feel that same way about you?
More than Listening
Decent conversations involve more than (NVC) listening. They involve empathy, compassion, and a desire to help participants evolve their understanding. To come together in reaching a deeper or more nuanced shared understanding. I sometime refer to this as “shared mutual exploration”.
Yes, that’s a high bar. But with practice and motivation – and yes, support – one that most people are capable of clearing.
Is there value in decent conversations? For me, absolutely. For others? Maybe we can have a decent conversation about that.
Rosenberg, M.B. (2015). Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life. Puddledancer Press.
Kline, N. (2010). More Time to Think: A Way of Being in the World. Fisher King Publishing.
http://www.skillsyouneed.com. (n.d.). Active Listening | SkillsYouNeed. [online] Available at: http://www.skillsyouneed.com/ips/active-listening.html [Accessed 7 Aug. 2021].
http://www.psychologytoday.com. (2013). It’s Not Enough to Listen | Psychology Today. [online] Available at: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/encountering-america/201303/its-not-enough-listen [Accessed 7 Aug. 2021].
Cordes, R. (2020). Making Sense of Sensemaking: What it is and what it Means for Pandemic Research. [online] Atlantic Council. Available at: https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/geotech-cues/making-sense-of-sensemaking-what-it-is-and-what-it-means-for-pandemic-research/ [Accessed 7 Aug. 2021].
Trzeciak, S., Booker, C., Mazzarelli, A. (2019). Compassionomics: The Revolutionary Scientific Evidence That Caring Makes a Difference. Studer Group.
Bohm, D. (2014). On dialogue. London: Routledge.
Rodriguez, C. (2013). “On Dialogue” David Bohm. [online] Carmen Rodríguez A. Available at: https://carmenrodrigueza.wordpress.com/2013/03/31/on-dialogue-david-bohm/ [Accessed 7 Aug. 2021].