May 14, 2013

On Conversation: Storytelling

Two vintage women drink tea over conversation
What better pairing than tea and conversation?

As I said yesterday, silence kills a conversation. 

However, there are two ways to begin a conversation again: by prompting the other person to speak or by speaking yourself. The first way is the one we are probably most familiar with: asking questions to prompt stories or explanations for the other person.

However, a good conversation is about give and take. No one person can dominate the entire conversation, but nor should they be forced to by receiving only questions. That would be an interview and an in balance of power. It is incredibly dissatisfying to either only absorb the other's stories and to never give out any of yours. How else will you develop your ideas, learn to compare concepts, or pass on your own understanding? Questions are good, but stories are necessary.

For the longest time, I was unwilling to take the lead in a conversation, because I had developed my question asking ability to the detriment of my story telling. The few times I tried to give a story, it fell flat- fumbling, awkward and rambling. So I retreated to the safety of my dominant skill, questioning, and let the other person fill most of the conversation.

But besides being rude for the other person, not telling stories was detrimental to me as well. It is said that something is not truly learned until it is taught. In the same way, something is not truly thought until it is spoken (or written- which is why I have been blogging so much). How much use are the thoughts in your head if you can't express them? And how better to express them than to your friends in conversation?

Like most skills, story telling is an art that can be learned with practice. It's taken me a conscious effort though and a great deal of thought. My main training is that when someone asks me a question, even one as simple as "how are you?", I don't answer as succinctly as possible and return the question to them.  I try to actively elaborate on the answer- try to turn it into a story.

Does this sometimes result in sharing too many details? Yes. Does this sometimes mean people learn more about my day than they were intending? Yes. Does this bother me? No. I'm learning the skill and know that I will make mistakes for a long time.

Another problem I have is that I share too many details in my story- trying to fit it as exactly to the reality I experienced as possible. I'm working on cutting out some of those details- finding the theme of the story rather than details and playing with that- even if that means leaving bits out.

My advice for going forward is three fold: identify what is keeping you from being a storyteller, identify what in your stories needs the most work, practice constantly.

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