Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Conversational skillz

The department where I work had some sort of team building session once, where one of the exercises involved pairing off and describing the other person. My partner said that I choose my words carefully. I think he literally said "thinks before he speaks." My boss later said that when I speak, people listen. I was surprised, because I hadn't observed the positive side of that character trait. I've only noticed that I'm good at killing conversations, or at least seriously maiming them.

The thing is, I censor myself a lot. I have a habit to only speak when I feel that I have something of worth to say, which means that I usually only speak when I know that I'm right and it has some bearing on what is being discussed at the moment. In a conversation that interests me, this might mean I state facts, clear up misconceptions and end the conversation before it had a chance to gain momentum. Cold hard facts don't make for interesting discussion. If the conversation doesn't concern something that interests me -- and they seldomly do -- then I don't speak and the conversation loses momentum due to long bouts of silence. I don't partake actively in most conversations. Lately, I've desparately tried to think of topics during those slightly awkward silences, but I find that there's not much I want to talk to anyone about. Either that, or my self-censoring has gone too far.

I'm fascinated by people who seem to have an endless supply of mildly amusing or enlightening anecdotes and topics up their sleeve. Of course, conversations with such people are very unbalanced to the point of becoming monologues on their part, because I'm either at a loss for words (or breath if they're really amusing), or busy analysing their conversational skills. I shun people who are under the false impression that they have an endless supply of highly amusing and enlightening anecdotes. I actively avoid or try to stifle such conversations, or imposed monologues, as it were.

Another problem is that I find most people to be incompetent in my areas of interest. I can't bring myself to listen to them prattle on about things that seem entirely inconsequential to me. I end up day-dreaming, analysing their body language, or thinking about why I'm not listening to them. When they do know something about something I like, they seem fixated on the subject and drone on and on, as if my life also revolved around that subject, which of course it doesn't. Sometimes I wonder if others share this feeling of incompatibility (or at least very limited and one-sided compatibility), but if they did, why would they keep approaching me and try to strike up conversations?

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