I’m delighted to welcome you to my blog. I’m excited to be starting a conversation with you about… conversation. I believe that talking together is central in our lives. If we improve how we converse, we enrich our lives.
I was struck recently by Michael Parkinson’s decision to return to TV after retiring several years ago. “Parky” is 76 years old and has interviewed many celebrities, such as Muhammad Ali, David and Victoria Beckham, Meg Ryan and Helen Mirren. His promise is to put his guests back in the spotlight, as he observes many talk show hosts make the conversation more about themselves than about their guests.
This made me think how easy it is to become self-absorbed. When we’re overly concerned about how we’re showing up – whether we’re funny, attractive or confident enough – we’re less available to talk with other people. Our own inner dialogue is more important than the conversation we’re having with another person.
Karen and Sarah at Sarah's 40th Birthday Party
A couple of years ago, my dear friend Karen stayed with me the night before I was due to run a masterclass on dialogue for the British Psychological Society. It was the first time she’d spent a night away from her 18-month-old son Samuel, who is also my godson. He had been to hospital with breathing problems several times recently. Leaving him for 24 hours was a big step.
After we’d cleared the dinner table, Karen paused and quietly said, “I hope that what I say next won’t hurt our friendship.”
“What’s up?” I asked, my heart starting to thump loudly in my chest.
“Well,” she replied, “when I’ve talked about Samuel’s health, you’ve been quick to move the conversation on. It’s the most important thing going on in my life at the moment and I’m feeling really upset.” She burst into tears.
I felt awful. Here I was preparing to run a workshop on dialogue for 20 psychologists and being completely insensitive to the needs of my best friend.
“I am so sorry,” I said. “I’m distracted and anxious about tomorrow. Tell me what’s troubling you …?”
Karen had given me some valuable feedback about how self-absorbed I’d become and how this was problematic for our conversation. We later decided that, because of her honesty, this exchange had actually deepened our friendship.
Talking together brings many benefits. A conversation:
- Forms friendships
- Brings comfort
- Airs issues
- Informs our decisions
- Creates new ideas
- Deepens connections
- Changes how we think about things.
No wonder we spend so much of our time talking!
In 2010, a Courage Beer survey revealed how much we talk in our everyday lives. In a sample of 3,000 British adults, the typical person had 27 conversations a day, lasting an average of 10 minutes each. This adds up to a rather staggering 4.5 hours a day talking.
Even more startling was that, while conversations were commonplace, nearly half of them (43 per cent) were deemed pointless. More meaningful talk would make a huge difference to the quality of our lives. And so to the question: What makes a good conversation?
I look forward to exploring with you how we can expand our capacity to talk, even when there are tough things to say. I welcome your comments, queries and insights, and I want to hear your stories about the power of conversation, for good or for ill, in your lives.