Social intelligence – post #2 – Be sensitive to how long you talk in conversations

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I recently came back from a vacation. Several friends at the church asked me how the trip went. My response was too lengthy. They were just being kind…they weren’t that interested in the details of my trip.  

I recently had a phone conversation with a friend from the past. I asked him to give me an update on his life. Soon, I put the phone down on my desk and continued to work. His answer was just too detailed and much of the detail was irrelevant.

I recently asked a friend about his medical condition. Ten minutes later he was still telling me. (I exaggerate.) 

On the other extreme, my eight-year-old grandson tends to speak in monosyllables. “Ben, how was your day?” —“Good.” “What did you do” “Played” I’m teaching him to talk more. 

Let’s analyze this together. What’s happening in each of these situations?

First, we need to understand the purpose of polite conversation starters. When someone asks “how are you doing” they’re being courteous; they probably just want to gently start a conversation. They may want to know, sort of, how you’re doing, but not too much information. A short, two or three sentence response is adequate, then reciprocate by asking “how are you doing?”

Secondly, I think we often overestimate how much detail people want or need to hear. If I ask about your surgery, I don’t need to know what the hospital food was like, just tell me if the surgery was successful.

There are times when longer and more detailed responses are appropriate. If I’m having lunch with a friend and we have an hour to talk, we can go deep on some topics. Though, even in this setting, I’d rather hear a little about many aspects of his life than too much about a few areas. 

The other extreme is to not talk enough. My wife calls me the king of brevity. I am a person of few words; sometimes I need to talk more.

I want to train myself to quickly assess the purpose and parameters of conversations. I want to learn to give short, concise responses that tell enough but not too much. I want to balance my conversations so that each person involved gets equal time to talk. And at times, I need to talk more.

I want to exhibit social intelligence in my conversations. 

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