My old buddy L. was in town last week. I say old, but I shouldn’t as she is neither old nor is our friendship particularly old. Ten years I’ve known her, but it feels like longer as she’s someone with whom I can sit and chew the proverbial fat. We can float ideas, think out loud and not have to edit our thoughts before they become words for fear of offence being taken. And there is a lot of offence taken these days. It almost seems that we listen in order to take a counter position, to disagree, contradict, and bounce back with the opposing view. Not that we have to sit around agreeing with each other, but it’s so much more enjoyable to have gentle debate, to let your positions float, hear someone out, and allow new ideas to sink in and influence you, or to maintain your stance even after considering different beliefs. Love and money was the subject of the moment with L. “My Nana used to say, ‘Money goes out the window and love flies out the door’”, I told them. L. nodded and smiled. “Yup. Next time I’m marrying for money.” The Welshman who with us was horrified, “What The Beatles said was true, ‘money can’t buy you love’, that’s why rich people end up in……”. “But it can buy you happiness”, L said, cutting in. In a flash, we were all talking at once, light-hearted, easy, good humoured.
Yesterday I walked with A. along the Union Canal, by Merchiston. She sent me a message afterwards to say she thought she’d talked too much, that she has a propensity to interrupt. A. is Indian, clearly she has something to learn about the garrulous Irish. I messaged her back assuring her she had done nothing of the sort, and suggested that good conversation is made up of a series of interruptions. There wasn’t much turn taking in conversation when I was growing up. Get your oar in when you can – was the general rule. And so our dinner table conversation was, at best, a series of non sequiturs, but, more usually, a word lasagne of seven monologues layered on top of the other. So, believe me, I’m not precious about the odd interruption!
Apparently there are three characteristics to well flowing conversation: timing, overlap, and eye contact. In terms of timing, a study undertaken in the U.S. showed that the timing issue is completely cultural. For instance, even within the U.S., New Yorkers tend to overlap (i.e. interrupt) in conversation, while Californians tend to leave more space between turns and sentences. I knew a Californian once who would tell me I interrupted him all the time – his conversation pauses were so long that I could nip to the corner shop for milk and still be back in time for the end of the sentence. Having read this study, it suddenly all made sense! Overlaps are common when someone loses a word and you find it for them and take up the conversational baton, or maybe you’ve heard the story before, and jump in when there is a pause and finish it. As for eye contact, well, there’s not much of that when you are out walking along Union Canal!
After my walk, I dropped into T. on my way home and we had a bit of a catch up.
T: What about Hawaii?
Me: I know, it’s mad! Imagine waking up and thinking: that’s it, game over. Terrifying!
T: “It’s the end of the world as we know it” – do you know that was the most downloaded song on Spotify on November 9th 2016?
Me: What, on my birthday?
T: Nothing to do with you birthday, it was the day Trump was elected.
Me: I wonder what they’ll download when Oprah gets in?
T: Was she in Hawaii when the text went out?
Me: Why on earth would she be in Hawaii?
T: She has a place in Maui. Everyone knows that.
Me: I didn’t know.
T: She’s probably still cleaning up after the mud.
Me: What mud? Did you get the mud out of his shoes by the way?
T: I did. Cup of tea?
Me: Yes please. It’ll warm me up. More snow forecast this week.
Here’s to floating conversations, may yours be many and varied today.