Sunday, December 13, 2009

What Kind of Conversationalist Are You?

I just finished reading, “The Five Love Languages” by Dr. Gary Chapman. Basically everyone has a way that they feel loved. Chapman breaks down these methods of showing and feeling loved into what he calls five “love languages”. They are quality time, gift giving, acts of service, words of affirmation, and physical contact. My primary love language is quality time. Personally, I resent someone who performs acts of service or brings me gifts but can't give me five minutes of their time because, “I need to understand, they're so busy.”
Inside the love languages, Chapman says there are “dialects”. In other words, two people may have the same love language but express it differently. For me quality time is having long substantial conversations with each other. Someone else may want you to spend time with them but not in conversation. For them quality time is doing things, like yard work, together.
This got me to thinking about conversational styles. Even people who like to spend time together talking still have their own “dialects”. There are people who don't actually want to have conversations. They want to have monologues. Now I don't mean that as negative as it sounds. I've had friends who do most of the talking and I really don't mind because they are so interesting to listen to. I enjoy sitting back and just hearing what they have to say. This past May I drove up from Austin with one of the band directors back to Longview. He's a young guy, maybe twenty-four. He did ninety percent of the talking but he was so much fun to listen to that I was happy to sit back and enjoy the ride accompanied by his stories and experiences.
Then I have friends who don't want to do any of the talking. I find myself forced into a position of monologuing because they won't contribute anything to the conversation. My closest friend in New Jersey was like this. When I told her it made me feel uncomfortable doing all the talking, she responded that she didn't mind, she liked to just quietly sit and listen to what others had to say. I think that the above two types of conversationalists are made hand-in-glove for each other.
I am neither type of talker. While I can enjoy doing most of the listening with an interesting person, that cannot be the only friend I have because to me it's pretty one-sided. I know a lot about them but they know practically nothing about me. How can I be friends with someone who doesn't really even know who I am?
I am the sort of conversationalist who has a lot of ideas and opinions about things and need to express them, but I need the other person's feedback. It's kind of like two people adding wood chips to a fire to keep it going. I need the other person to help feed the conversation. I give a viewpoint then they give their viewpoint. I share a personal experience, then they share a personal experience etc...
If I'm with someone who simply wants to listen without contributing anything to the conversation I feel as though I'm clapping with one hand. I bring up a topic, give an opinion, share an experience and it falls flat. I am then forced into the position of picking the conversation back up off the ground and starting again. It's tiresome and I don't enjoy it. It's no different then thinking to myself. It's as if the other person is there simply for decoration.
I could further explore the topic of why some people like to monologue and others need to have a “tennis match” conversation (like me). (Most monologuers primarily talk about themselves, their life, family, friends, personal experiences while my give-and-take conversation style is mostly more impersonal, dealing with philosophy, ideals, politics,etc.) but I think I've said enough on the subject for now. I guess I will close with the question, what kind of conversationalist are you?