The average person spends 23 days a year on the phone. Ironically, we seldom use them for the purpose they were invented – to audibly speak to people. Messaging, social media, browsing and entertainment apps have officially taken over. It’s another development in the impersonalism of the information age; not only are our interactions faceless, but also speechless! It’s no surprise then, that people are fast forgetting the art of having a good conversation. Look around and observe people talking – often, they are disconnected, disinterested and disengaged, and even when they manage to draw each other in, nothing valuable or productive is really generated from all the natter. Knowing how to have a good conversation is clearly an under-developed life skill.
But the potential is huge. The most profound truths of existence were revealed in conversations. 5000 years ago, when the valiant Arjuna was thrown into an existential crisis, he desperately began questioning life, the universe and everything. A penetrating conversation with Krishna ensued, and the Bhagavad-gita (“song of God”) was born. The contents of this conversation are profound, but so too is the manner in which it was conducted. Let’s take a closer look at conversational skill of Krishna and Arjuna:
Attention – Despite the fever-pitch intensity of the battlefield, Arjuna managed to shut everything out and give his undivided attention to Krishna. Attention, they say, is the rarest and purest form of generosity. It pays to be fully present in any dialogue, since your counterpart will willingly work overtime to reciprocate with your investment.
Openness – Arjuna was open to suggestion. “I am student,” he said, “I wish to learn, and want to know your opinions.” That’s progressive. If you enter a conversation fixated on what you’ll say and what you want to hear, you paralyse the process of discovery. Let the person give what they want, and be ready to wholeheartedly receive. Set aside your personal opinion and let your perspective be challenged.
Spontaneity – Arjuna was baffled and bewildered, looking for answers but lacking clarity and structure. Krishna patiently responded to his every inquiry, taking the hour-long conversation through twists and turns, and full circle! Good conversations go with the flow. Often times it’s more valuable to ditch the planned route in your head, and instead talk about what is lingering deep within the person. Then we get to the heart of the issue.
Honesty – Arjuna lays all the cards on the table. He has doubts, questions, disagreements and issues, and he eventually reveals it all. Krishna responds to his honesty with gem-like insights. When you are real with people, they’ll be real with you, and then it gets ‘real interesting.’ Superficiality is the breeding ground of the most uninteresting interactions.
Humility – Hearing Arjuna’s request for guidance, Krishna is reluctant. Even after Krishna offers his flawless advice, He states this it’s merely “His opinion” and encourages Arjuna to “do as he wishes to do.” Krishna’s humility is indeed amazing. Conversations are not a platform for self-promotion or proving ourselves. Putting our own pride and vanity aside allows us discover wisdom and truth. In a conversation, don’t simply listen so you can reply, but listen to genuinely understand.
… a few random thoughts on having a good conversation. Maybe we can discuss sometime?