Have you ever been sitting across from someone–a friend, spouse, colleague, or even your own kid–and then suddenly realize that you missed half the stuff they just said to you? Based on context clues, you can figure out what they’re talking about (thank God!), so it saves you the embarrassment of letting them know that you weren’t really listening.
It’s so easy to become passive when it comes to conversation, especially in a world where fast-paced technology is teaching us how to abbreviate everything we think or say (i.e. texts and Tweets). It’s also this same technology that’s making us so distracted that our mind is never fully in the game.
For example, you can be having a perfectly lovely and interesting discussion with a friend over brunch, but your continuously buzzing smartphones, always within a finger’s reach, are encouraging you to focus on 25 other things besides each other! Granted, you’d only succumb to the temptation of responding to a text or laughing over someone’s Facebook status if you’re truly comfortable with the person you’re with, otherwise you’d seem ridiculously rude. And to be honest, it’s still impolite even if it’s a close friend or relative. Seriously, is it really that hard to put away your phone for an hour so you can devote your undivided attention to someone?
I realize that I’m also guilty of indulging in this rude behavior, and I’m sure that I’d get a slap on the wrist from Miss Manners for doing so. However, I’m feeling somewhat redeemed after realizing that I’m still pretty adept at having an engaging conversation with new people–an art I thought I’d lost based on the toddler-speak that often falls from my lips with the kids and the half-sentences I mutter between doing chores while attempting to catch up with my husband.
This past weekend, my husband and I actually had to practice the art of conversation with a couple we’re getting to know, and it was very rewarding. Our children go to preschool together and we’re starting to develop a friendship outside of school after attending lots of kids’ birthday parties and school functions together. They were recently at our home for my daughter’s second birthday, so they kindly invited us to their house to go in their pool and BBQ together. Because we don’t know each other very well yet, we got to spend hours talking about our backgrounds, political views, goals for ourselves and our children, and even pop culture type stuff like what TV shows we watch. (They now know that we’re huge Sci-Fi geeks.) It was refreshing to be tuned in to everything they were saying because we really wanted to hear their thoughts and views and be able to respond (intelligently) with our own opinions. It’s somewhat rare to make new friends as you get older, but it’s a real crankiness crusher to know that it’s possible and very enriching. You just have to be willing to turn off your stupid smartphone for a little while and connect with the person who’s sitting right in front of you!