May 19, 2010

How do you initiate conversations with people you don’t know – or don’t know well? It’s so hard. I can’t be the only one who feels this way. Maybe we should form a club. We can sit around and fidget and wish we could talk to each other.

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How do you initiate conversation?

Why am I writing directly to you in recent posts instead of exploring my observations?

Eh – whatever…  Anyway, how do you do it?

I’ve usually worked in some sort of professional capacity that requires me to have decent communication skills.  Managing Customer Service Depts.  Ren Faire PR Director.  Managing Director of Optimist Theatre.  Owner of a tour company.  And yet, I suck, suck, suck at initiating conversations.

I’ve heard stellar things about Toastmasters, but my available time rebels at the idea.   So, I’d rather have tips and hints.  Toastmasters for the time strapped.

Communication skills are on my mind lately, mainly due to a recent conversation with Fry.  He related an article comparing the lives of Robert Oppenheimer and some other fellow, whose name escapes me.  Seems they are of a similar age and IQ.  The differences, and the point of the article, were in the sorts of communication skills each learned early in life.  Oppenheimer came from a family that was engaged with their children.  To generalize, that more frequently happens in families that have the time and energy to be engaged with each other, which is frequently a result of economics.  OT (the Other Fellow) did not.  Money was tight and everyone in OT’s family were engaged in the business of not starving to death.  Again, to generalize, families in those situations tend to engage with their children less.

Seems children who are engaged learn how to advocate for themselves better.  They are more attuned to conversational give and take and learn how to express their ideas and perspectives.  Children who are not engaged don’t know as well how to advocate for themselves.  They might feel like there is something needs to be said, but they just don’t know how to say it.

I grew up as an OT.  I get this.  It’s frustrating.

Ron is a total Oppenheimer – well except for the sociopath tendencies that are explained later in the story.  Ron grew up engaged.  He is a natural social butterfly when it comes to working a room.  For him, it’s not work.  It’s a natural way of existing and connecting with the world.

Back to our story.  In college, Oppenheimer actually tried to poison one of his professors.  He not only talked his way out of charges, but managed to stay in school.  OT had trouble paying his tuition and never thought to go talk to the school about his situation.  He never thought, hey there’s a problem here.  I should talk to someone about it and see what we can do to work this out together.

OT dropped out of school.  He lived the rest of his life in subsistence jobs.

The comparisons of these two lives mark only one of many divergences and mitigating factors.  Life is complex and cannot be boiled down to a single, defining circumstance.  But, there are defining circumstances in life and it’s good to be aware of them.  This is one.

So, I feel a need to engage.  I feel a need to prove to myself that I cracked the barriers that were ingrained from a young age.

It’s so hard.  I can’t be the only one who feels this way.  Maybe we should form a club.  We can sit around and fidget and wish we could talk to each other.

Significantly,

Susan Scot Fry

Update…  It’s so true.  I do communicate like my mother.  But, I’ve evolved.  When I think about it, she had evolved from her mother’s communication style as well.  It makes sense and is good to know.  We can change if we think about it and try.  There’s hope.

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