Saturday, February 26, 2011

Poem: Communication

A poem of sorts that came to me, on the topic of communication:

Slow down,
There is always more to be said,
There is always more to be understood.

If I try to speak, will you listen?
If I listen, will you tell me?
Will you wait for the meaning to form,
And the words to shape around them?
Because they will change their shape,
And color and tone,
And they will always change,
And wherever there are no words,
The meaning will still remain,
So can you accept what I cannot explain?
Can you believe what I want so badly to show?

For each of us has something more important than can be ever explained to share.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Inclusive Body Language

Have you ever been in a conversation with more than one person, and suddenly discovered yourself forgotten? Maybe it was because you were talking to your friend when an acquaintance of theirs showed up who you didn't know, or maybe you were silent in the conversation for a while because you didn't know much about the current topic. In any case, feeling excluded from a group isn't fun. Sometimes it seems like you're even being physically blocked out, where the other people will turn their bodies just enough to leave you standing separate.

I used to encounter these situations a lot due to my tendency to be a "listener". I might be quite interested in what was being said by others, but I didn't always have something of value to add right then. Unfortunately, people that didn't know me often assumed that since I wasn't saying anything, I wasn't part of the conversation. Even good conversationalists would forget me, so I assume most people don't even realize they're doing this.

Now to look at this from the other side. When I started working on my conversational skills, it became apparent that talking to more than one person at a time threw me off. I had a tendency to give my full attention to one person, and usually that was whoever I knew better or was more comfortable around. I tried dividing my attention between the two people (which I could do with minimal success if they both happened to be my friends), but add another person or two and someone was bound to be left out.

I discovered the solution when hanging out with a couple friends of mine. One of my friends was an introvert, but also a skilled conversationalist. The other friend was even more of a listener than I was, and often didn't talk much at once. I noticed that my conversationalist friend would address both of us even when she and I were the ones doing most of the talking. This simple act meant that when our "quiet" friend did have something to say, she already had our attention. It seemed as natural for her to speak in that situation as it was for her to listen to others speak.

With some practice, I learned how to apply this technique. First, you have to identify which people are interested in any given conversation. You'd be surprised how many people are giving off subtle body language that they want to be involved, but who may have been overlooked because they weren't saying anything right then. Next, adjust your body language to include as many of these as possible. For example, some of your "group members" might be unintentionally blocking someone, even to the extent of having their backs turned. In this case, you may need to step to the side or change which direction you're facing to give them space.

Finally, when you have something to add to the conversation, either address the group as a whole, or alternate between different people. If you're words are directed at one person in particular, you might speak mostly to them but occasionally turn to others.

For the more advanced conversationalist: if you notice someone in particular that's being overlooked, you could try bringing them into the conversation by directing a question at them or saying something specifically meant for them. Often, the other people present will give more attention to them after that, and maybe even look momentarily sheepish for not noticing them.