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The Conversation Dance: Do You Glide Or Step On Toes?

Do you ever walk away from people you’ve spent significant time chatting with and realize they don’t know a thing about you?

Isn’t it interesting that you know all about them—because during the one-way conversation, they shared all about themselves and never stopped to ask a thing about you?

Is this truly a conversation, or just someone selfishly seizing your time as their captive audience? Has this style of conversation ever left you feeling unheard, unseen, and unimportant?


What type of conversationalist do you think you are: the giver or the taker?

Captive Audience or Conversation Partner?

I recently attended back-to-back weddings with many guests. At the first wedding, I was invited as a friend—and not as “Terilynn the Human Development Coach”—so I got to visit with people that I hadn’t seen in a long time. The conversations would open with a quick “Hello, how are you,” after which I would be captured as their committed listener.


In what I thought would be relaxing interactions of getting re-acquainted, I instead was immediately subjected to stories about: who did who wrong, struggles at work, how adorable their dog was, ranting about a grueling divorce, and why the educational system is flawed. After they dumped everything they wanted to talk about, they would say “It was great to see you,” and then move on to their next victim.


At first, I thought I was just missing something about the natural flow of being “social,” and my judgment had taken the place of curiosity. Did I feel out of balance because my social skills were lacking, or was my awareness of these interactions heightened because I’m accustomed to being “the coach” who often does most of the talking?


At this point I thought if I took my seat at the assigned table, I would be a little less visible and free from exhausting conversation dumping. This was not the case. 


I was finally rescued by two little girls that allowed me to escape by letting me ask simple questions to hear fun answers all about them. Listening to these two precious children had me stop and wonder… are adults ever taught to shift from self-focused conversation to sharing true two-way communication?


My conclusion came at wedding number two...


Different Location, Same Situation

This was an out-of-town wedding that I was coordinating with my best friend for her father and soon to be stepmom. I didn’t know many people there, so I knew conversations would start with the basic, “how do you know the Bride and Groom,” “where did you travel in from,” “isn’t this wedding exciting,” etc.


Thursday evening marked the first event of the wedding weekend, with a small group of out-of-towners at the bride and groom’s home. I knew that—as one of the coordinators—it was important to connect with other guests, so I would ask a question or two, only to once again find myself captured as their personal conversation dump station.


It was exhausting.

I dreaded the next day, knowing that the same out-of-towners would be joined by more out-of-towners at a Chinese restaurant, and I would again need to connect. Miraculously, I was rescued by a server who informed me there wasn’t enough seating at the main dinner table. I was elated—and relieved—to sit at a corner table with my girlfriend’s husband where I got to take a breath and watch from a distance.


Saturday—wedding day—arrived, and now it was show time! I had the privilege to run around coordinating, making sure everything was in place, which gave me the opportunity to breeze through the crowd with quick hello’s and a smile. The wedding was flowing beautifully, so I quietly took my seat at the dinner table thinking I was home free and could just sit and enjoy.


Nope. That’s when the next conversation dump happened. One of the women from night one sat down next to me, stuck her cell phone in my face, and talked at me for over an hour with detailed descriptions and photos of her cat, her home, her hot air balloon excursion, how the balloon worked, and then showed me every member of her family and their history. 


I wanted to cry from frustration, but not wanting to offend my best friend’s family—or let her down as the coordinator—I chose to accept that I had been captured again.


After the wedding, my grounded, practical, fair, no-drama and to-the-point friend was chatting with me about all of the guests and the success of the wedding. Then out of her mouth came these questions: Do people not share space anymore in conversation? Do they forget to ask about the other person and show any interest? When did people get to be so self-focused? What happened to the “conversation dance,” gliding into a two-way conversation?


There it was! It wasn’t just me, and I was so relieved. These were all great questions, and I stopped to ask myself if I share the space equally with others, and where I possibly dominated conversations. Did I leave the “conversation dance” lopsided and the other person with bruised toes?


I recalled traits of people I know with great social skills, who always leave me feeling important:

  • They share authentically, and equally ask questions about me.

  • They remember things I shared and ask more related questions.

  • They want to know more about me, and chat about things that matter—like family.

  • They keep eye contact and set their phones/smart devices aside.

  • They show enthusiasm in the conversation, leaving me feeling seen, heard and accepted.


I don’t know about you, but I want to be that type of person; the person that leaves people feeling empowered and special. I don’t ever want to be the person who walks away leaving people drained and exhausted by my stories, not knowing anything about them.


Practice mastering the two-way “Conversation Dance”:

  • Willingness to share yourself with the other person.

  • Consciously enjoy this time with the person.

  • Listen with committed ears. See them, and stay curious.

  • Ask authentic questions about them, and care about hearing their answers.

  • Authentically let them know you found it a privilege to spend time with them.

  • Think of the “conversation dance” as a 50/50 gliding experience.


Share in the comments any other tips you may have to master the “Conversation Dance.”
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