Why Talking is the Best Way to Think.
A great conversation is like a short holiday for our mind and soul. Many of us know the feeling of leaving a conversation better than we entered it. We feel energized, understood and appreciated — and most important, we feel that we actually learned something important to move forward. But why is that, and how can me have more of it?
It took quite some time for me to figure out why most of the time I prefer one-to-one conversations over conversations in a larger group. Now, that I am aware, the reason sounds simple. It’s all about the connection. I am less interested in small talk or showing off, meaning conversations that never cross a certain level of overall acceptance.
What I am really interested in, is deep, open and honest conversations at eye level which are not impossible, but hard to attain. At least in private life, most conversations feel like a competition.
It’s not about truly listening to each other but about beating the others. Who has the funniest story to share, who solved the biggest challenge, who knows the most. The worst of these conversational types have simply no value, and even more: they leave everybody frustrated and ashamed. Needless to say that the quiet ones feel inferior or unworthy, but if the talking person has any means to reflect, even he or she will feel embarrassed to have stolen all the attention and therefore have missed the chance to learn from others.
Still, unfortunately, many people rather want to be right than learning, which is why the consequence is, that most people prefer stating opinions rather than listening to them.
Yet, with every superficial conversation, we miss valuable opportunities. Opportunities to transform our mind, reconsider our position and progress with our thoughts.
Talking is a way to move forward. By talking, we think. If we have somebody else listening to us, we take more effort to structure our thoughts and to stick with them, instead of only circling in our own limited world or jumping from thought to thought.
And a good conversation is usually the beginning of a solution already.
We are social animals and communicate for a reason. We communicate to evaluate our theories, strengthen our worldview or approve our ideas. And we don’t only communicate through words. As we talk, we constantly evaluate the reaction of our opposite through their facial expressions.
These so called micro expressions are tiny mimic reactions. Together with what people return verbally, they can give us valuable information whether what we say makes sense or rather doesn’t sound very useful.
In addition to that, people are also mirroring what we say and more important, how we say things, hence how our emotional state is while talking. Valuable hints about how we truly feel about something are provided, which we can then decipher from people’s reactions. In other words, by talking about a subject that is important to us, we can better understand and assess our own attitude towards it.
On the other hand, these expressions are also the reason why sometimes we leave a conversation with nothing but confusion although we can’t quite make sense of it.
For example, somebody says yes but his facial expression and body language mean no.
In this case, verbal and nonverbal expression don’t match which leaves us puzzled. Often however, we don’t notice this consciously, as it requires an increased perception in the moment and in-depth knowledge of nonverbal cues. But it still leaves us with the unpleasant feeling that something’s wrong.
Because talking is a two sided interaction, we get direct feedback to what we say.
Not only the reactions are helpful but also the process of talking in itself. The act of talking is a highly complex process in our brain, because we need to manage putting the right words in the right context to convey the right meaning. As we talk, we need to reconstruct our thoughts and through that, achieve new ways of thinking.
I myself depend on meaningful conversations, when I am in doubt of what to do. In many cases though, I do the opposite of what I’m suggested — which doesn’t quite matter because the sheer act of presenting my situation helps me to better understand what I really want and need.
Therefore, the main ingredient to the ideal conversation is deep listening. Some say, it’s the only thing that truly matters (which is also why common therapeutic practices merely involve listening.)
This is because to figure out a solution, we need the time to properly formulate our views and finish our thoughts. In most conversations however, we are interrupted before we even get close to articulating our real challenge, because the other person is reacting with advice or worse, hijacks the story and makes it about her or his own issues.
Against common belief, most of the time advice is counterproductive, because it actually makes us feel inferior to the other person and therefore we withdraw from getting more involved. So the next time, you are about to give advice too early, challenge yourself if you have truly understood the other person’s situation already and think about how you can phrase it more positively and productively. Also, try to embrace breaks and take the time to reflect. Most breaks are time to progress thoughts in order to go to the next level — unless they are blocked by the pressure about what to say next.
This is not to say that our viewpoints and are not interesting or helpful to the other, we should just be careful of how we bring them across.
Because not all situations are psychoanalytic sessions though, I believe that the other part of meaningful conversation are honest questions.
For this we shouldn’t be scared to ask repeatedly, pose funny questions or to lose our face by not understanding directly. The better our opposite wants to understand, the more we are pushed to analyze our problem, look at it from another angle and phrase it in different ways.
In many cases, as we enter a conversation, we aren’t quite sure ourselves yet, what the real issue is. So conversational progress can help us to get closer to the origin of our issues and better understand the actual interrelationships. And if we are facing the right kind of conversational partner, it can lead us to saying the best solution ourselves.
For this reason, great conversation is not to have with everybody and it’s not always related to whether we like someone or not. If you really want to get somewhere, you should carefully choose your conversational partner. A great conversational partner is truly focused, empathetic and sincerely interested in understanding you and your specific situation. You can recognize them by the fact that they let you finish your sentences, rephrase what you stated earlier, ask genuine questions, also about your feelings, and build on what you’ve said. In a good conversation, you’re building on one common stream together instead of meandering through in two separate streams.
And if we want others to become better listeners, we should start with ourselves by understanding why listening is more than worth it.
Practicing to be a good listener has many advantages as it opens up a huge world of possibilities. Every person we have a great conversation with, is actually somebody we can learn a lot from. Because we are all different and each individual carries her or his own perspectives.
By listening to people’s stories, we can learn valuable lessons if we seek to understand how they approach different situations. If we let them, it’s astonishing what people are willing to tell.
Plus, we get the comfort of seeing that we are all but alone with our issues. I haven’t yet figured out why, but I definitely know, that there’s not much more reassuring than understanding that everybody struggles with something — and interestingly enough, our problems aren’t that much different.