There are all sorts of work shops and self-help books for people who find themselves lost for words in social situations, but the people I really wish would get help are the ones who won't shut up.
Recently, as just one example of many, I went to a small dinner gathering where I knew only the hosts - lovely people. Most of the other guests seemed lovely too, but I can't say for sure. One woman dominated the evening so comprehensively there was no chance to get to know anyone else. She talked about herself virtually non-stop.
She was oblivious to the discomfort and boredom around her, the restless body language, the glazed eyes, the failed attempts at diversion. By evening's end, my mouth was locked in a rictus of feigned interest that bordered on cramp.
Some people somehow have never developed to the point where they take an interest in other people's lives. Experts say one of the really negative things about this is that they don't learn things. They remain where they are. Listening is what takes you into another person's world and expands your own.
These people must have a lack of curiosity and maybe had poor role models.
Another psychologist points out that, these days many people may not be getting any conversation modelling at the dinner table at all. She said "we don't sit down and pass the conversation around the table with our families any more". "It's like a social skill we no longer use". And email and social media she says are one-way broadcasts.
"You are just trying to get across your message in your own way and in your own time. And you're not really being mindful of the other".
Conversation is definitely a collaboration, not a performance. With conversation skills the most important one by far is the skill of listening. Long after people have forgotten what we talked about, what they will remember is how we made them feel.
It takes two to have a conversation - something we often forget!
“An appreciative listener is always stimulating.”
~~ Agatha Christie
"When I'm in a bad mood, I don't listen".
~~ Cathy Freeman