Do you know why I talk to myself?

Why do I talk to myself? It’s the only way I can guarantee the conversation will be intelligent! When others join in, I often sprinkle the conversation with quotations from myself because everyone appreciates the wisdom I have to share. My detractors, however, claim that I don’t hold a conversation at all. Instead, they say, all I do is deliver a monologue in front of witnesses. Only envious sots would spew such rubbish! Do you know what I find irritating? Waiting for the others to shut up. Fran Lebowitz was right when she wrote, "The opposite of talking isn’t listening. The opposite of talking is waiting." Her comment is as well written as if I had written it myself.

Does my arrogance disgust you? I’m just trying to point out how rudely we often behave during conversations. For example, we may find waiting for our turn to speak unbearable, so we interrupt. Why are we so eager to speak? Because we want to display how wonderful or knowledgeable we are, instead of trying to discover the treasure hidden in our companion’s heart. But if we pause to reflect, we will probably agree with Sa’di, the Persian poet, who wrote in 1258, "Whoever interrupts the conversation of others to make a display of his fund of knowledge, makes notorious his own stock of ignorance."

We can all benefit from civility in conversation. So, besides interrupting, here are a few other guidelines to consider.

It’s fine to hold a conversation, but let go of it now and then. Give your companion a chance to speak.
And when you do so, build on what they’re saying, rather than trying to tear it down.
The time to stop talking is when your companion starts nodding in agreement, but says nothing.
Never say anything that everyone would wish was left unsaid.
Did you ever notice the weaker the argument, the louder the voice? When trying to make a point, don’t raise your voice, but elevate your logic.
And if your friend gives an opinion without supporting it with facts, don’t try to challenge it, but welcome it. You see, we learn about our friends not by the facts they state, but by the opinions they share.
Never live by the rule that "conversation is when three people are speaking and gossip is when one of them leaves."
Consider what the English poet, Lord Greville, wrote, "Our companions please us less from the charms we find in their conversation, than from those they find in ours." What is true for us is also true for them, so make an extra effort to delight in the words your companions are expressing.
In our day-to-day activities, we usually engage in four types of conversations. The first is informational. That is, we try to share or get information, such as in the classroom, workplace, or doctor’s office. The second is emotive. The purpose of this type of communication is to stir emotions instead of appealing to reason. The clergy, politicians, and activists are masters of this. The third type I’ll call persuasive, but linguists call it conative (this is not a misspelling of "cognitive," but an obscure term or jargon used by linguists). This type of communication is to make people do something. It is used by parents, supervisors, and police officers. Examples would be: Johnny, clean your room! I need you to do overtime today. May I see your license?

The fourth type of communication is what we normally think of as conversation; it is called social (linguists call it phatic). In social (or phatic) conversation, the meaning lies more in the demeanor, body language, and facial expressions than in the words. The purpose is not so much to share thoughts as it is to share time, not so much to converse with our minds as it is to speak with our hearts.

Why bring up the different types of communication? Because an understanding of the subject can help to end misunderstanding, which can lead to conflict. For example, it’s important to know whether what your boss just said was an order (conative) or a suggestion (informational). Communication becomes even more difficult when we mix cultures.

For instance, when living in Japan, whenever my neighbor would see me leave the house, he would ask, "Where are you going?" When I told him where I was going, he was always surprised by my candor. It took me a couple of months to learn that the question, "Where are you going?" was not informational, but social (phatic). He didn’t want to know where I was going; he just wanted to be social. I finally learned that when you’re asked where you’re going, you should reply, "Just over there . . .(Chotto asoko e.)" When you do so, both the question and answer match. That is, they are both social (phatic) statements. So, what you are really saying to each other is, "Hi, I’m your friend!"

One of the biggest reasons for conflict arising from miscommunication is the ridiculous demand for "mind reading." Actually, rather than miscommunication, it is a case of lack of communication. In other words, a spouse or close friend may become angry because you have not done something they did not ask you to do! Rather than ask you, they expect you to "read their mind." "After all," so the argument goes, "if you really loved me, you would know what I want you to do." The key to eliminating much suffering in the world is to say what is on our mind, instead of expecting others to read it.

It is true that after time, married couples can anticipate what their mate is about to say before they say it. But we only reach this point by beginning the relationship assuming the opposite is true. By first revealing what we hope for and asking our mate to do the same, we slowly arrive at the point where it is no longer necessary to do so.

There are enough snide comments, malicious remarks, and hurtful barbs to go around. Why not ennoble ourselves and help make the world a little more pleasant? We can do this by taking advantage of the opportunities provided by conversation. We can use conversation to bond with and nurture our friends. Our words can reveal their importance in our lives, as well as express our love, respect, and understanding.

Instead of displaying our own eloquence, let’s try to draw out the opinions, hopes, and ideas of our companions. Let’s seek to know rather than be known. Let’s also communicate by what we are instead of by what we say. And let’s listen carefully to what isn’t being said. Use feedback to eliminate misunderstanding. Get clarification and verification before moving on to another subject. And never let it be said of you, as George Bernard Shaw said of another, "She has lost the art of conversation, but not, unfortunately, the power of speech."

© Chuck Gallozzi
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