poetry & food 1/6/2013
Went out to dinner with some friends recently, and the evening made me reflect on the art of conversation. There were four of us sitting at the table in the restaurant, and one person monopolized the conversation the entire night, talking loudly & keeping the focus on themselves. After a while, their incessant chatter felt rude and uncouth. I found myself getting irritated because it seemed ungracious. I tried to summon up my inner-Buddhist & give this person the benefit of the doubt, but my frustration only mounted. I felt relieved when the evening was over. I was drained and thought this loud person had been unfair to the group. At the same time I felt guilty for harboring resentment toward a friend.
In general, I enjoy outgoing people. As a person who can be reserved, I find extroverts inspire me to loosen up and have fun. However, I am weary of conversation vampires, people who chatter on & on, rarely ask questions, and seem to forget about the needs of other people in the group. These people aren't the usual sort of extrovert. Their talking style feels invasive, not encouraging.
When it comes to talking to other people, we all have our quirks. Some of us talk too much, some too little. Some play with our cell, interrupt, gossip, or lecture away. Some don't listen well or constantly shift the focus back to ourselves. Some laugh at everything, some at nothing. Not all of us pick up on body language cues that signal a desire to end a conversation. Talking, while fun, is a messy sport.
I'll admit that I'm guilty of plenty of my own quirks. For example, I can be absent-minded at times. I'll be chatting away with a friend, and then I'll suddenly zone out because my head feels full & I need a brain break. This can frustrate people, making them think I'm not listening. And it's true. I'm not! But not because I'm not interested. My brain sort of drifts back & forth between intense focus & fuzziness.
I'm also guilty of playing with my cell when hanging out with others. And when I'm very worried or anxious, I can chat in circles about an issue that's bothering me. Or I can talk about random nonsensical things at inappropriate times. When meeting new people, I can seem quiet & withdrawn. This is sometimes due to shyness, sometimes due to laziness.
Anyhow, reflecting on my own conversation quirks has made me curious about my friend, and other overly loud people. They may do it out of habit, nervousness, or narcissism, it's difficult to know. But the truth is I struggle to have patience for folks who seem to monopolize social talk. At the same time, I know people who have struggled to work with my shyness. Who've said, "Are you okay? You're not saying much." And I can sense that my tendency to be quiet in certain situations is making them feel funny.
Over the years I've learned to chime in more, but it still takes effort & I don't always succeed. At the Buddhist center last week the teacher said, human beings are nothing but a collection of habits. If we want to be happy or different, we just have to change our habit or way of thinking. Building on that point, I guess we all have talking & listening habits, and maybe it's good to reflect on these from time to time & improve. However, I feel conversation vampires are the least likely to be self-reflective about their habits. And maybe that's why I feel kind of justified in being judgy. I need to find strategies for interacting with them.