02 November 2009

making conversation

in the last few days i've been talking a lot - and to a lot of different people, many of whom i don't really know all that well. i'm not so used to that. and except for a few glitches, it's gone rather well.

moving to the community in Amsterdam has both helped and hindered my ability to make conversation. language has probably been the biggest hinderance. nothing quite hurts a conversation so much as not being to understand the other person. and well, if you often don't understand, you can get used to not listening so much or even trying to make conversation. and, when you finally do understand, you can talk all the time and never listen! so in some ways, it's felt like my ability to talk and listen well hasn't definitely decreased. and every so often i stop and think, "oh yeah, so how do i make conversation again?"

and yet, at the other time, living in community has taught me how to make better conversation. i've learned a wider range of questions to begin short conversations, and i've recognized that finding common interest or experiences helps move the conversation along. and i'm learning how to rescue conversations that are going downhill (the weather's almost always a good safe topic). and living with a wide range of people helps make me be aware of what could potentially lead to a problematic conversation.

but even with all this that i've learned, i still have conversations that make me shake my head. this morning i had one of those. as i was walking into the main house this morning, a former inhabitant walked in around me as i was picking up the newspaper. so i stopped her and asked her (in english) if she had an appointment to come in. she told me she spoke dutch. so i said sorry and then asked her again in dutch. she told me that she didn't like it when i touched her to stop her from going further. i said sorry (again) and then asked her if she had an appointment. she said she came to pick up her old stuff. and i said, but who do you have an appointment with. her lack of answer made it clear to me that she had no appointment, so i asked her to wait elsewhere while i found someone to help her. br Luc came upon this point and insisted that she leave since it was time for chapel and there was no reception available to help her - she could join us in chapel or wait until after it. i was glad for his rescuing (and i wished that i'd realized i could have justifiably insist that she leave).

and the conversation made me think, especially about what i could have done differently. looking back, i can see that this former inhabitant actually did a great job of manipulating the conversation towards getting what she wanted. several times she put me on the defensive, insinuating that i had done something wrong by stopping her unauthorized entry into the house. and she used a number of tactics to avoid answering the question about the appointment which would clearly have shown that she had no right to have walked in. and i wonder, should i have not simply ignored her complaints and/or gone into attacking mode myself? and perhaps that might have worked (and i think i'll have to try that tactic some other time), but i still don't know how effective it would have been. her avoidance of my question by trying to move to a different topic/issue makes me doubtful about whether it could ever have been a decent conversation. even if it's not always so easy to know what to say or how to say it, a conversation does, at the very minimum, require that both participants actually try to listen to the other.

1 comment:

br Luc said...

IMHO attack mode will just make things worse. Just stick to what you think is right, not too much discussion. In the way you describe it, I think it would have helped that you drew a conclusion: "so you have no appointment, so you come back later. In this case I rushed a bit to your aid as I was not sure you knew that the police had been involved during the weekend.

br Luc