Talk is Cheap: A Look at Our Conversational Tendencies and 3 Ideas for Moving Forward

If I'm being honest with myself, much of my talk is cheap.

What do I mean by cheap talk? I'm someone who takes pride in "being real," "digging deeper," yet in taking inventory of the bulk of my conversations, I see that I often avoid these two intentions. In taking a good look—and listen—around, I know I'm not alone. Our speech is laced with superlatives. Our conversations live in the realm of references and often take the form of a slightly more complex conversational association game. We skate on being unidimensional—whether that be one emotion or a consistent script we run with specific people. Take for example our script, "How are you?" Perhaps most of us mean well and are asking it sincerely, yet most of our answers are simple, trite, or blatantly dishonest. Seeing some of these tendencies leaves me with questions:
Do others really want to know I am, in the full glorious mixed-bag of circumstances and emotions, prayers and possibilities? Do I really want to know how others are, and am I willing to give them the space to express it in a meaningful way?

I used to be so disheartened in listening to the ways we talk and how rare it seemed meaningful communication was happening. Now, I know that my own blame and frustration at the conversation of "others" was fueling the problem, because it's about me too. Now, I'm more interested in creating space for a new realm of conversation in practicing what I preach. This doesn't mean that all our conversations must be lengthy, somber, filled with explicit detail or be attempts to summarize convoluted emotions. It does mean that we can cultivate conversation with authenticity, passion, and meaning. I look around and see that others, not just myself, are hungry for deep relationships and thirst for meaningful conversation—but we don't know how to go about it. Thankfully, creating new conversations isn't about fixing the problem of the old, just about making space for the new to emerge.

Standing in that space, here are three ideas for moving forward:

Slow Down
I can move at extremely high speeds in conversation, and sometimes it seems best to do so. More often it is just me being flippant. This is why slowing down is so important. Like a good stretch or savoring a good wine, being more focused on the moment than we are about the passing of time is a recipe for enjoyment and meaning.

Listen Deeply
It's easy to talk about listening, or listen to my own internal chatter while someone else is talking. It's more important to have an open ear to another person or persons. If I'm only listening for a space to fill it with my next sentence, I am not listening—at best I'm being an echo. Being quick to listen means that I am poised, focused. I am here in the present moment sharing life with another. It means being mindful to the multiple levels of conversation occurring at this moment. Listening to words spoken and their meanings (as best understood) to the other person, tone, body language, context. All these conversations are happening, and we need not verbalize them all to listen well. Just as music is space broken up by sound, so conversation is silence broken up by words. By starting with an open ear and not just an open mouth, we chart a new path of possibilities for our conversations.

Choose to Respond
Taking stock before speaking is an art, and vital for cultivating robust conversation. While it is easy to react, to unconsciously project my own emotions and meaning about the words of another back onto them, that is not responding. Response as I see it is an intentional iteration that is integral to the conversation. A response is an answer to what must be said at this moment, rather than simply emotion or words regurgitated. The first thing I think when someone tells me how they are may be relevant to the conversation, and may be the best starting point for a response, or it might not. Only us being in touch with ourselves, the other and the moment can help guide a response. Choosing to respond with an open hand, an open heart and while keeping an open ear are the task that lie before us.

By slowing down, listening deeply and choosing to respond, we are in a whole new space of lived conversation. 

Much of our talk is cheap, but it doesn't have to be. We can be authentic and generous in our conversations.

Benjamin FaderComment