Conversation Is Everything

Emotions, tone, attention, and intention—communication is more than words.

Posted Nov 22, 2018

"They finish my sentences." That for so many can mean, "They get me," or "I feel heard and understood" yet, for others, it can be off-putting, leading to feelings of "why won't you let me finish?" or "Don't try and predict me!" The key to good communication is knowing your partner and reading their cues. These are key elements of what can keep couples together, what defines their love and friendships, how leaders inspire healthy dialogue and problem solving through team building and active listening, and we learn to hear those who speak differently than us. In the era of abbreviated texts, edited pictures, and  boastful yet vague highlights what is the role of actual conversation?

Defined as "the informal exchange of ideas by spoken words" and derived from "conversari" meaning "living among, familiarity, intimacy" conversation seems to be a bridge allowing vulnerability, humor, and emotion to pair with facts and realities in a way that highlights our humanity. What does this mean then for those with limited or less traditional forms of communication? How do we listen to them? acknowledge their value? Learn with and share experiences? We listen differently, we strive to understand with greater vigor, and we pay attention to breath, eye contact, volume, movement, and remain open to the highest likelihood or closest approximation of clear intent possible. Engagement and silence can speak with equal impact when we pay attention to the circumstances.

As a special educator and as an executive director I find myself in the throws of conversations in many forms. Over the years my definition of conversation has shifted from a tennis ball volley of observational and descriptive noticing to volume, gestural and dramatic based push - in attempts jumping into a double dutch pattern whenever possible elbowing my way in at times for the chance to be heard, seen, and respected. And now, I have learned to trust, to allow conversation to include pausing and more listening—it is easier and more fruitful. It also has led to less misunderstanding, greater mindfulness, and a more receptive tone. That is not to say I don't still have my questions and my moments, this article is one step towards conversational understanding and enlightenment!

It is a constant evolution figuring out the intention of a conversation based on partner, context, state of mind, and honestly, mood. In my "civilian" life I am allotted leniency and sometimes applauded for creative cycles of associations and poetic ramblings, and forgiven my bouts of forgetfulness that tend with prompting to be easily rectified or lead to other fun dialogues yet when it comes time to support students, staff, parents, and to represent the community of neurodiverse individuals I do, there is a different level of accountability, focus, and balance between restraint and candor. The art form of conversation goes from entertainment and self expression to action, holding space, and advocacy; the cost is much higher. Therein forethought, clarity, and pacing become the baseline for fruitful conversation to take place.

AXLE themes
Ideas can be conveyed and understood in a multitude of ways.
Source: AXLE themes

As a business woman and the head of a nonprofit defining professionalism and integrity requires constant checking in and reinforcement of a set of non-negotiables in how you will be addressed, how you create and sustain boundaries, and how you allow or don't, people to use words as power plays with or against you. Addressing groups vs 1:1 interactions you learn are completely different universes and then bringing it back to our students, we realize also the power of our environment, sensory processing, and personality differences.

In order to shed some light on how to go about the most effective and poignant conversation both personally and in corporate or professional scenarios,  I had the honor of interviewing powerhouse Kathi Love, President and CEO of Motherwell Resources LLC, a company devoted to management consulting and executive coaching. Kathi is a certified executive coach and is a member of the International Coaching Federation. Her insights are powerful tools for team building and leadership growth. We looked at the role and cross over of social and professional conversation along with the Dos and Donts of a healthy dialogue. 

"I think that conversation in the workplace is EXTREMELY important. One of the hallmarks of well-functioning teams is trust and individuals who share information, personal and professional, work better together.  Social conversation is an important component of this sharing. It lets people know more about who we are, what is important to us, what our values are; it allows us to reveal information about ourselves in a nonthreatening way.  Nonverbal communication is vital.  Studies show that only about 7% of communication is actually the result of words.  The rest is tone, body language, timbre of voice, eye contact etc etc.  

My three top DO and DON'Ts

DO:

Use "I" statements in communication.  Stay grounded in your own perspective and don't blame others or say things like "you always...." 

Listen!  Most people are forming their own replies instead of really listening to the other person.

Don't be afraid of difference in conversation.  But make sure you treat difference with respect and really listen to the other person's point of view.  

DON'T:

Don't make it all about you.  Ask the other person questions.  Good conversations are two sided.  Don't assume you're always right.  A "my way or the highway" point of view isn't going to get your far.  Don't forget to pay attention to your own body and your own reactions.  Slow down.  Listen.  Don't let your emotions run away from you. " 

"And finally, I define conversation as the opportunity to share with another person and learn from them.  It is a gift to yourself."  

This gift is often best accented with a sense of mindfulness, care and respect.  It is important to stay in the hear and now and listen to  not only the exact words or signs someone is giving you but keeping the mindset to include an empathetic point of view in really putting yourself in your talk partners shoes. There are many layers and indicators of messages we all share that are not always directly related to what we are seeming to be talking about.

Conversations can often have different meanings for each participant. Marilisande Montes de Oca, is a young professional working now in legal research at NYU with a background in psychology. She helped execute and record EVEnt (Emotional Vocal Exploration) Conversation Therapy research exploring the impact and style of how we look at communication in the Autism community, I interviewed Marilisande asking about the lessons learned from this study and her own experience with what conversation really means... 

 "My biggest take away about communication from working with the participants in the study is that just because a person has more verbalizations readily available for themselves to draw upon it doesn't mean that they are more of active participant in a conversation than an individual who doesn't have words readily accessible to themselves. The importance of communication: basically it connects us to others and connects others to us. It makes us feels as if we're a part of something. It's an important part of establishing community. A good conversation, for me, means that I've come away from it feeling closer to the individual I've been conversing with. We may have shared something or learned something together but we were both engaged and come away with more knowledge about the other individual. "

The truth is that conversation is not just words and eye contact, trigger and response but rather an acceptance of each other in both giving and receiving whether through shared language, laughter, posturing, or questioning! No matter what, there is an exchange and recognition. That unto itself is so much... Dr Stanley Greenspan, child psychiatrist and founder of the DIR/Floortime Model TM said it best " There is no greater feeling than being understood" As this article comes to a conclusion I remind you that like good conversation, it never truly ends. Until we "talk" again.

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