It’s time to have a conversation that actually matters

“One day you will wake up and there won’t be any more time to do the things you’ve always wanted. Do it now.” – Paulo Coehlo

The other night, I shared a meal with an almost stranger.

We met in person last year. Or the year before, I don’t recall. So many people pass through this tiny island, if only briefly.

So we’re Friends—in the online sense.

From time to time, we meet in the ambient glow of our timeline feeds, ‘socializing’ in the language of likes, comments, and shares.

Then, out of almost nowhere, my almost friend invites me to dinner.

Of course, I accept. (Free dinner!)

That evening inspired a blog post, and so I invited my new friend to pick a pseudonym. He prefers I use his real name, which is Manfred.

I promise to be gentle 🙂

No such thing as a free dinner

Manfred had a lot to say. Not that I minded, at first. It can be a pleasure to let somebody carry both sides of the conversation.

Manfred had quit his high-tech job, and decided to travel the world in a customized mini-van. As he explained in some detail, this wasn’t going to be a hippie van. Nor an RV. Not even an airstream.

He had found a guy somewhere in Hungary to customize his mini-van, which according to plan, will feature the words ‘Getaway Car,’ painted backward across the front, like an emergency vehicle.

For the first hour, Manfred had me in stitches.

(For my non-native readers, that means we were laughing.)

I was honored that Manfred chose to share his stories with me. He’s making positive changes in his life. Of course, he’s excited.

But here’s the thing. My attention is limited.

I was interested in what Manfred was saying, but only to a point.

That point came when I understood his verbal tsunami would only continue until I interrupted. Then it would resume.

UGH. This kind of thing tends to piss me off.

I don’t particularly enjoy getting angry, and besides, I genuinely liked the guy. It was time to make a decision.

The hidden cost of paying attention

Somebody who is talking expects you to listen.

It’s only polite to listen. Your mother taught you that.

It’s also considered rude to interrupt. If you didn’t learn that lesson by a certain age, you had school teachers to drive it home.

What nobody taught you is that listening ‘costs’ energy.

But we know this. That’s why we talking about ‘paying’ attention. To offer your full and complete attention requires you to spend energy.

True, Manfred was buying dinner. That’s an implicit social contract.

And I was prepared to listen. However, I had no intention of letting him drain my psychic energy—merely out of social obligation.

Is it polite to grow silently angry and detached? I don’t think so.

In my world, the polite thing is to be honest as possible. That requires courage and, fortunately, I’ve had practice.

This was my decision, in two parts:

1) To offer Manfred my full and complete attention, BUT;

2) To point out what was happening—and how I felt about it.

That’s when the magic happened. An evening that started out as a monologue evolved into a conversation that engaged us both.

That evening, Manfred and I became friends. (yes, IRL)

Let’s talk about stuff that matters (because yes, I know that you are listening, too)

I’ve spent the last two years meditating on what matters to me, and frankly, how I want to spend the remaining years of my life on this planet.

I want to engage in work that is meaningful. (me)

I want my work to be truly useful to others. (you)

If at all possible, I would like to carry out this work online, so that I can continue to enjoy a high quality of life (away in nature) while reaching the maximum number of people.

This is my ambition and, with 10% battery remaining on the MacBook that’s about as much as I can figure out to say for now.

4 thoughts on “It’s time to have a conversation that actually matters”

  1. Today I visited the thermal spa Harkányfürdő in Harkány in Hungary. There I ran into a guy I genuinely liked quite quickly. He is originally from Croatia but is living in Bavaria for 25 years now after he fled because of the Yugoslav War. Our conversation started out as a very interesting dialogue but after one or two hours he started carrying both sides of the conversation. Now I most probably know how you must have felt that evening in Vueltas  I asked him for a break which turned out to be the end of our conversation but it was perfectly all right for him because I think he immediately understood what had happened.

    1. Interesting to hear that, Manfred, and it sounds like you handled it exactly right. In my experience, anybody who dominates a conversation is also aware of what they are doing—at least at some level. It’s a habit.

      The only way I know how to deal with this behavior is to point it out. That can go either one of two ways:

      1) They understand and make some attempt to balance the conversation, in which case we have a chance to be friends.

      2) They get offended and call me an asshole. In that case, they are welcome to their opinion and I get to have my peace.

      True confessions: I sort of understand that you would pick the first choice, and I am very glad that you did!

  2. Love your blog posts, Steve! A conversation is when TWO people are talking. If only one person is grabbing the microphone then it’s a monologue.

    I remember a few years ago an old friend from HS came over and talked about every bit of what she had done over the last 20 years and didn’t ask about my life at all. I’m still kind of cheesed about it.

    I think you are very wise to ask for what you want. That’s how change happens.

    1. Thanks for your encouragement, Marilyn. It is maddening to have a ‘conversation’ with somebody who has mentally checked out, and is just motor-mouthing. Pointing out the behavior is the only sane solution I’ve come up, short of walking away (always an option!)

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