The Basics of Healthy Conversation

This is the second guest post from Carly, an active duty Soldier, yogini and avid adventurist. You can find connect with her on Instagram @RunOnSunshine.

Bottom Line Up Front: As part of the MISSION: Capable philosophy, you have to be healthy across all domains of fitness to live the life you want to live. That means physical, mental, and social domains all have to be in line. This post directly addresses the basics of healthy conversation.


How many of you have walked away from a conversation or had a texting/messaging conversation and felt as though it could have gone better or in a different direction? If you haven’t, then I want to talk to you, you must be a great conversationalist. If so, welcome. I have been there a lot and still go to that place of longing to erase texts or rewind time and stuff words back in my mouth. I was just in a relationship where most of our interaction was through phone conversations, Skype, texting and letters. The impossible distance. But, the thing I took away from it, was how much I value good communicators. This guy was a great communicator. And no offense fellas, but women trend toward language, intuition and empathy and men trend toward being more spatial, cognitive and systematic. It is hard to find a great listener and someone to talk to for countless hours.

Conversation is a fluid art; while there tends to be a systematic “summon” and “answer” structure (more science of conversation on this TED Talk), everyone has their own way that they communicate with others. Some seem to do it more eloquently and we all add our own flair. Here are some points to ponder:

  1. Listen more than you speak. This is probably not the first time that you have seen this line, but it is so effective! When I converse with someone I haven’t talked to or seen in a long time, we get caught up in telling each other what’s been going on it’s as if there’s a laser duel happening. The lasers are our stories. We are so focused on harnessing their laser (hard block, if you will) and harnessing that energy back to them. Lasers aimlessly flying back and forth and round we go. It usually takes a few minutes to settle down and realize what is happening, but we do, and conversation returns to “normal”. Some people are fighting a proverbial laser battle every time they encounter someone. Have you ever met anyone like that? It’s stressful. I usually just shut down completely when I am bombarded in that manner. Calm listening with the intent of listening thoughtfully and actively should be the focus before you shift to think about your reply. This leads to my next point…
  1. Ask thoughtful questions. When you ask thoughtful questions, it is usually because you were actively listening with a genuine interest in what the person has to say. If you don’t have a genuine interest, then you don’t need to ask any questions; do try to understand a point of view (if you are feeling it). But, if you don’t want to hear any more on the topic for whatever reason…get out of there. If you are trying to establish some sort of rapport with the person in which you have entered into conversation, flatter them with genuine interest and allow them to explain their point of view further.

Personally, I like listening to opposite points of view and asking more questions. Even if I don’t like the answer, I feel as though I have a better understanding from their perspective on the world. Reality is based on our own perception. It is cool to hear about another- now, whether they allow the same for you could change the direction or tone of the conversation. There are many techniques on a hostile conversation and how to shift it, but that may be another article in and of itself. These are just broad strokes.

  1. Exit strategy. Like I mentioned earlier, there may be a conversation where you get sheep dogged into a corner into a figurative chest poking competition; let’s hope you have an escape. I am sure all of you reading this know how to get out of situations, but some may sit patiently until a verbal harassment is through. And that’s up to you. Sometimes you’ll learn something by sitting through it and maybe even make a valid point of your own if you make space for the right moment to insert your two cents. Other times, you just need to get out of Dodge. Your exit strategy could be a white lie or the blazing truth. You forgot about picking up your child, significant other, pet (I’d only use that if I have one) and need to jet. In a case that severe, you probably should just leave. You could muster up some polite words about not wishing to continue the conversation and escape to another group of people or go outside. Having an exit strategy isn’t all about escaping bad situations, but leaving an encounter with the closure feeling deliberate and neat. When you are texting someone or speaking with someone and things aren’t finished, it doesn’t leave a good feeling on either side to stop responding for days on end. Even if it doesn’t necessarily bother you for that to happen with people, ending a conversation with an appropriate ending and/or establishment of the next time you will talk/meet/etc. leaves a good feeling, plain and simple. Humans like to structure things in neat little tidy boxes. We are bred to collect and analyze trends and we are naturally makers of meaning. An untidy end can subconsciously affect how you relate to an individual.
  1. No accusation, no assumption. I am guilty of this. Oh SO guilty. When I enter into a tense situation, I try to place myself in that person’s shoes and imagine how they may feel at the present moment. I am sometimes correct in helping identify emotions of people who don’t always understand how they feel or how to place it into words. But sometimes, I am dead wrong; when I make the mistake of saying, “I know XXX has probably made you feel XXX” or “I realize I may be making you feel XXX, and so XXX” in a heated discussion with someone I love they could immediately go on the defense because I assumed I knew their feelings. Being able to carefully articulate words without making assumptions about the person you are encountering takes careful practice. Practice, practice, practice.

In any scenario where you do not understand what the person is trying to say or the desired end state of the conversation, just ask. Or, if that could trigger defensiveness in your partner in dialogue, sum up what your conversation partner said, confirm that you heard it correctly and then ask if it sounds accurate, “What I understood from what you said is XXX. Is that accurate?” If you are having the pleasure of having a conversation in person, body language and eye contact can help you detect what the person may be feeling and how to direct the conversation (and vice versa, 70% of communication is body language-imagine all that can be lost in a text conversation!). More on body language here.

To sum up, people are going to do what they are going to do in a discussion. But in a world today where people would rather text abbreviations and hieroglyphics to their friends, families and loved ones, rather than have a conversation, I think we ought to take some time to think about the effects we may have on people when we communicate the way we do.

QUESTION: What techniques do you use in uncomfortable conversation? Do you think texting can unintentionally do harm to a relationship? Post thoughts to comments.


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