A father or mother wants to talk to their daughter or son about something important. The conversation begins and in a couple of minutes, the daughter or son walk away indicating that the she or he is unhappy with the way it went.
You seek out your friend to talk about something that has been troubling you. Within a few minutes, you switch the topic because you get the sense that the conversation is not going the way you had expected it to.
A Leader calls for a team meeting and finds that despite his best efforts, no one wants to open up and say anything. He finds that there is no conversation whatsoever.
Your boss or your colleague comes up to you to say something. The way they say it is so insensitive that you wait for the ordeal to end.
My work gives me the opportunity to engage with people to help them improve the quality of their conversations. Thanks to this, I listen to a lot of stories about how and why good conversations do not happen or how despite good intentions, people end up killing conversations.
Here is my list of the six most effective ways in which anyone can kill a potentially good conversation.
Texting, emailing or other acts of multitasking are sure ways of telling the person in front that there are other things that matter more than the conversation at hand.
After a few attempts, the other person will switch off and realise that the conversation is not going to happen.
In general, multitasking and other ways of showing disrespect are very powerful tools to kill conversations.
2. Sharing a matching story
With much effort, you have chosen to open up and talk about something personal and important to this person in front of you. Your expectations is to be understood, to receive some empathy and of course some relief as a result. Unfortunately, the other person rushes in to share a matching story, indicating to you that his story is better than yours and intending to turn the spotlight onto him. Sometimes, hidden in the story is the message that his way of handling the situation was superior or that his struggles were bigger or worse. He may also give you the impression that it is more important that you first listen to his story.
That’s a sure killer.
3. Reacting with anger
Reacting with anger and frustration to what someone says is another sure shot way of killing a conversation. Maybe the other person failed to do something, or did something that was wrong or said something that one did not agree with. Reacting with anger and agitation and frustration is a good way to put an end to the conversation.
Let’s ask ourselves this question – what is the very first thing someone says in response to what another person said? The tendency to evaluate the right or wrong of what that other person said or the tendency to see the fault in the other person’s line of thinking or to point out what they missed or failed to see or did not see tends to come first for many.
This can be another very effective strategy to kill the conversation because the other person feels very defensive and uncomfortable and shuts up.
Asking questions that are interrogative in nature can also be another effective strategy to kill a conversation. Such questions tend to quench one’s thirst to know more rather than help the other person to think, or become more concrete and specific. This too can kill conversations.
This is perhaps the most popular conversation killer. Most of us have a prescription pad ready with us at all times. The moment someone comes to us to share something, we spring into action and write out a detailed prescription in terms of what they should do and how they should do it and so on. In addition to making the other person look small and stupid, it also kills all initiative.
So what should one do?
The most common response to such a list is this: “Where is the time for a conversation? Given the transactional pressures, it is not practical to expect anyone to spend all the time to have conversations.”
I agree with that position. There are several occasions in a day where we give instructions, receive instructions, share information, obtain information put out a fire or just do a whole bunch of transactional stuff.
However, there are at least a few conversations moments each day – occasions when it is important to listen, empathise and respond with such empathy and understanding. Seizing those moments can take our relationships with these individuals to greater heights.
It is also useful to ask ourselves this question after each such conversation – How did I do today? In what ways did this conversation help the other person and in what ways did it strengthen the relationship?
Asking myself these questions has helped me shine the spotlight on ways in which I tend to kill conversations.