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Has anyone ever approached you with a concerned look on his face, saying: "We need to talk?" Then you may be in trouble, especially if your counterpart is a medical doctor, who has just examined you and is about to call the hospital. Verbal and non-verbal expression varies among high- and low-context cultures, I learned from a book by Edward T. Hall. Very little talk is meaningful though, and the one or other visitor may wonder the same about this webpage.
I'll say anything... just to talk!
Meaningful Talk. Some people just talk... to talk. This article is meant to do more and examine conversation techniques without losing itself in too many empty phrases, which admittedly can also help filling up silence and pages. On other occasions, we have discussed the Polish phrase of Austrian talking and the unexpected first word of our youngest. Often it is just about asking the right questions. A Russian proverb tells us: "Pravil'no zadannyj vopros uzhe soderzhit polovinu otveta - A correctly formulated question contains half of the answer!" And sometimes it is dangerous to disturb people, while they are occupied with something of higher importance. A lesson of life, which is summarized in the British advice: "Don't kick your granny, while she's shaving." But one doesn't have to know everything to the last detail. It all goes back to the sausage factory example: "Everybody likes to eat sausage, but nobody wants to see, how it is made."
Blind Understanding. On a delayed return flight from the UK, among all the angry and tired faces I would quietly read and chuckle over a book about talking techniques. By watching people in conversation, we can learn simple things that some academically call creating a good rapport with each other. In case of sympathy, quite naturally, we tend to mirror each other's behaviour through gestures or speech patterns. It looks like a dance of mutual readiness to talk.
Witty Comments. Some people are wittier than others. Punch phrases represent a form of using positive reframes in conversation. Short, pointed remarks can ease a tense situation by introducing the element of surprise and make others smile. The book mentioned the self-critical sample statement "I am so fat!" and its possible reframe: "Be happy, you save water in the bathtub!" One day, in response to a colleague mentioning that we were still "in the honeymoon phase" of a project, with a serious face I would warn of the "three rings of marriage", an unexpected joke, which lead to liberating laughter. However, such undertaking can be quite risky, as it may not always be crowned by success.
Anchors Aweigh! Going into lengthy workshops, this time I had brought my favourite music. It helped motivate me in times of loneliness and tiredness. It appears, without knowing I used the self management instrument of anchoriung, by reaching out to a positive stimulus. It may happen that a song on the radio places you back into a certain situation from your youth. Even a specific smell can ring a bell and bring back memories of the grandparent's house or other locations in an otherwise completely unrelated situation. Then you feel connected to an emotional state of happiness or sadness, whatever you may associate the memory with. Some people clench their fist to motivate themselves. Alice Cooper's motto "Raise your fist and yell" comes to mind. Others have learned to deal with continuous stress in another way, using their very personal anchor. "Anchors aweigh! Sails up, we ride with the wind", as the song from the children's cartoon "Vicky and the Strong Men" put it.
Filmmaking Experience. What an experience to find yourself in the center surrounded by other hobby actors, jumping in for the trainer ("because of being tall") as the guy holding the pots and the speech. A few seconds of it would be used for a promotional video of the location. A situation where it is important to just talk, no matter what you say, really. So I spoke about preparations for an upcoming big project, one's big birthday, the movie classic Notorious and a few other not to serious small things, just to move the lips and keep the audience focused somehow during filming. "It won't be long before you get a call from Steven Spielberg", one colleague joked, continuing: "Of course, the editors of the movie would have to be careful that no-one looks at it who can lip read!"
Too Much Talk. Many people make a habit of going on and on in order to "hear themselves" talk. But the more we talk, the more nonsense we say (or write). When you say something wrong, you depend a lot on the good will of others to forget what you just said. So don't say too much! And if you find out later that a message was ambiguous, don't hesitate to go back to clarify. Sometimes a honest and credible apology becomes necessary. Although you shouldn't constantly say sorry either. As our Latin teacher taught us, we shouldn't apologize for every translation error. If we didn't prepare well enough, the excuse won't help the bad result anyway. So it is also important not to over-apologize, for an excuse is meant to be something special. With John Wayne: "Don't apologize, it's a sign of weakness!" And he provided yet another advice: "Talk low, talk slow, and don't say too much!"
Nice & Non-Committal. Sharing memories is nice. They can be so interesting for others, can't they? In fact, "nice" and "interesting" are two outstanding terms, ideal to tell nothing about real feelings. "Nice is a baby bottom", as our English teacher tried to stop us from using that expression. He was wrong, the word is to be used. It may sound banal, but help us to be polite in one of those small talks that are not very efficient short term, but long term can help building up social relationships to potentially expand on later, or not. It took me a while to understand the importance of meaningless chat. Although I still avoid talks about the weather as standard repertoire. Not just talking to talk (and hear yourself talk) without saying anything, really. Occasionally, you may find yourself in neverending meetings with the sole purpose to meet. An agenda prepared beforehand, meeting minutes and assigned action items formulated as next steps may help not to end up in a way, a colleague used to describe by altering a famous Laurel & Hardy quote: "I was dreaming that I was awake and then I woke up and found myself ...in a telephone conference!"
But now it's time to say Good-bye.
Travelling abroad, one may gain new perspectives... both above and below the clouds.
Breaking the Silence. Over dinner, a good friend suggested a standard answer for times, when you find yourself in the middle of a conversation about a topic you cannot contribute much to: "That is the best for those, who like it - Das ist das Beste fuer den, der's mag!" The next question takes it one step further: Is it better to talk nonsense than to remain silent? Up to a certain degree it is, I suppose, as silence can be so depressing. Going out in the evening and just staring at each other across the dinner table without exchanging any information, what a waste of time! Except when there is this spark over a candlelight dinner, of course. Then you don't need many words, do you? And I don't mean a candlelight dinner in its cheapest form, which would be grabbing two sandwiches and going to the cemetery.
A simple sign attracted my attention at a Seoul Subway Station. A motto for life: "Do not run."
Do Not Run. We are in a constant rush. "Can you do this quickly?", how often have we put in the "extra mile" to achieve the unachievable and in retrospect not always that urgently needed. We rush to the gate in order not to miss the plane. We want to catch that train, as it is about to leave the station without us. And occasionally we stumble and fall and fail in our attempt to save time instead of leaning back and putting on that whistle and that smile. Given those thoughts it was a simple sign that attracted my attention at a subway station far away from home, while visiting a good friend. Some kind of reunion, after I had just missed a high school anniversary over work. So here is my advice for the day: Be persistent and efficient, be reliable and accurate, but by all means do not rush - do not run, rather enjoy life, as long as it lasts! Or as the girl band Vixen put it: "Life's too short to live too fast!"