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The Art of Conversation - Part 3

By John McManamy

Remember Bob from my two previous articles? Not only was he contending with a severe mental illness, he was also laboring under a burden equally pernicious - his woeful lack of social skills. His illness may have reduced him to the equivalent of house arrest - namely living with his parents - but his inability to connect with others (unless something changes) is guaranteed to keep him there.

 

We all have a lot more in common with Bob than we would care to admit. Even a short episode may produce fallout that lasts a lifetime.

 

Clawing my way back from my illness - that was relatively easy. Breaking out of my isolation - essentially talking my way back into recovery - that was hard. Fortunately, I had a lot more going for me than Bob. I had been trained as a lawyer and been successful as a journalist. At least, in the art of communication, I had achieved a certain level of proficiency.

 

But I am familiar with people with even better skills who have retreated into the protective custody of living with their parents, afraid to venture out, terrified at the thought of having to string two sentences together, seemingly with no idea how to start.

 

Here's the good news: Effective communication is much easier than you would believe. Following are a few simple precepts I picked up as a journalist and further developed as I was getting back on my feet:

 No one really cares about you. 

The big mistake Bob made was in assuming others really did care about him. Whether you are Bob saying in your best Forest Gump voice that you play four saxophones or the world's leading cardiologist volunteering that you have been short-listed for the Nobel Prize in Medicine, no one really gives a damn.

 

No one is listening. They have tuned you out.

 

Believe it or not, this brutal fact of life considerably lowers the bar for you to get involved in a conversation. You have no burden to talk about yourself. You have no obligation to impress someone. You don't have to show how smart or funny or compassionate you are, much less display your big shot credentials. You don't even have to open your mouth. All you have to do is show up.

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