When you build a story that differs from the one a speaker is expressing, you are having a tangential conversation.
By Kevin RR Williams
Pay Attention To What I’m Saying
Technology is killing the art of communication. Our conversations sometimes emulate Internet surfing behavior. When we get in front of someone who needs a listening ear, some of us cannot resist flubbing them. This describes the loss of eye contact while becoming distracted with texting or social media. Another conversation-killer is acknowledging a statement mid-sentence, and then leaving the room before the speaker completes the thought.
Communicating with others in real life is difficult for many people. This is not due to an inability to enunciate. With different life experiences, our choice of words resonate differently among listeners. We may have a tendency to meander while asking for help. Not getting to the point causes listeners to lose interest.
Because conversations are bidirectional, at times, we are on the receiving end. This is when we forage for commonality with any of the expressions we hear. While stitching these tidbits together, do we build a narrative that differs from what a speaker is expressing? If so, we are having tangential conversations.
While waiting for a pause to continue with our story, the words of the other party can feel like an impediment to our expressions. It is a duel of stories. We are speaking at one another, not to each other. The idiom referring to this interaction as, “going off in left field.” This frustrates the other party, as we give the impression of conceit.
For example, when some readers see the idiom, “left field,” they immediately want to share events from a recent baseball game. Focus! What are we talking about here and now? The subject is: Responding too quickly. So, reel it in. (Whoops, we just lost the fishermen.)
How to Stay in Focus
How can you avoid tangential conversations? (Long pause for effect.) Listen… more than you speak. Tame the ideas racing through your brilliant mind. Focus on the words spoken to you. Acknowledge comprehension by nodding and repeating back key expressions.
Ask how the situation under discussion makes the other person feel. If you are reading text, physically or mentally highlight phrases. Journalists may use block quotes or pull quotes.
Before offering solutions, slow down and establish if this is what other people want. Perhaps they are building the backstory before revealing the solution to which they have already come. While engaging in the conversation, maintain eye contact and interject brief questions to make certain you are on track:
At this point you may hear a plea for specific assistance. Your response at this point is crucial. (Don’t blow it.) Either say, “I can help you with that” or “I may not be able to do that, but can I share what I think may be helpful?” With their blessing, now you can express your ideas.
If your friend’s story ends with a solution they are proud of, commend them without diverging. The key is to pay attention and respect each other's though process. You will appear wiser and your friendships will be A Bit More Healthy.