Thinking Out Loud

Maintaining Narrative Integrity

Okay, that’s a bit of a highfaluting title and since I’m not one for jargon, I won’t use it again. It came out of a conversation with a friend.  We were discussing an observation he had, and the two of us were trying to come up with a name for it. Actually, it is descriptive and a message to the listener. So, what does it really mean? 

As a listener in a conversation, we are stimulated to varying degrees and automatically assume that we will collaborate as the conversation evolves.  In being stimulated we make associations to our own experience (thoughts and feelings). It’s at that point that we risk taking the conversation in a different direction than the original speaker intended, thus risking a disruption to the narrative.

Immediately you have to ask the question: But isn’t that normal for a conversation? Doesn’t conversation evolve in a creative way based on the mutual input of both parties? Yes, it does . . . but if, while Speaker 2 is talking, Speaker 1 loses the topical thread, the conversation can head in a different direction or get derailed altogether.

Both parties need to be patient and mindful. Speaker 2 needs to understand what Speaker 1’s point and purpose really is and address those only. Speaker 1 needs to listen to Speaker 2’s input and gently bring the conversation back if Speaker 2’s input isn’t quite on track. This patience and mindfulness is the only way to ensure understanding and it’s the only way for a conversation to deepen. Diversions can add breadth and scope, which could be interesting, but depth comes only with preserving the thread of the original speaker.

Of course I’m not talking about chit chat or light catching-up conversation.  I’m talking about when someone needs to get to an important point or understanding.  At times we misread the need and intention of the speaker, but most of the time we can discern the level of importance pretty quickly.  Though it can help if Speaker 1 sets the context at the onset; for example, “I’ve been mulling over something important and would like to run it by you. Is this a good time?”

Again, patience, mindfulness, and genuine curiosity are important communication skills. In combination they make us better listeners and allow an important conversation to deepen toward understanding.

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