Making conversations work

Conversations can be a tricky thing but they play a crucial role in our lives. There’s unspoken rules that we may or may not be aware of and it affects our energy. For some people conversations can take energy, or for others it can provide energy. You can think about this like a spectrum and people fall in many places along that spectrum. There are many specific things that go into good conversations but we’ll just pick one of the high impact ones to talk about.

Imagine a conversation having a spotlight. When you talk you take the spotlight and when someone else talks they take it. You can’t give the spotlight to someone it has to be taken. When you don’t want it anymore, and if the other person doesn’t take it then it falls on the floor, and we get what we sometimes recognize as awkward silence. This means in order for you to get rid of the spotlight you might need to get the other person to take it from you.

That last part can be key for introverted people. It’s also very good for extroverted people to remember because they love to have some spotlight time (remember they get energy from it). If you want the other person to take the spotlight you ask a question. This is normally manifested by someone extroverted asking the introverted people if they have input.

Understanding this dynamic can be important in a lot of ways. If you have learned to tell stories or share experiences to relate to people you take the spotlight from them, and you have to consider the goal of the conversation because you may need to get them to take it back.

Consider the following scenario:

Sarah: I want to start skating again, just to get outside more.

<distinct stop>

Johnny: I had been thinking about something like that. I like to be outdoors as well.

<Sarah is obviously irritated>

…later in the conversation…

Sarah: I want to go to that new bar, I hear they have a beer tower.

Johnny: Oh yeah I love that place! I went there with a running club one time and they got pictures of me laying underneath of it with the tap open

<All friends but Sarah laugh>

Sarah: See you always do that! You make everything about you!

Johnny: Wait what do you mean?

Donny: I enjoy the banter, Johnny.

What do you think happened there? Sarah is most likely not going to be able to articulate what bothered her there. You may be reading that and thinking that Sarah is being unreasonable. Indeed if you ask around most people would think that was fine.

What happened? Sarah may have been low on energy or it may have been another reason, but she needed that spotlight. Johnny took it from her, and didn’t allow her to take it back. Johnny didn’t do this on purpose, he was trying to relate and be friendly.

Consider the adapted scenario:

Sarah: I want to start skating again, just to get outside more.

<distinct stop>

Johnny: I had been thinking about something like that. I like to be outdoors as well. Do you enjoy skating or is it just any outdoor activity?

Sarah: I like skating because I used to do it when I was a kid. I thought it would be a fun way to get exercise.

Johnny: Yeah that does sound fun. Do you have a place in mind to skate?

Sarah: Yes I have a place picked out where they have nice sidewalks and people ride bikes and walk.

Johnny: Oh that sounds great

Sarah: Thanks, I am pretty excited.

In that scenario Johnny still said the same thing, but he remembered to get Sarah to take the spotlight back. When you’re in a conversation it’s very helpful to know who is supposed to have the spotlight and how to participate in a way that helps everyone with their spotlight needs.

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Steven Griffith

I was a software engineer for right around ten years before transitioning into management. I’m still growing in my new field.