A Recipe for Better Conversations

A Recipe for Better Conversations

A Recipe for Better Conversations 474 400 Dr. Menon

The driveway is full of cars. You walk up to the door, ring the bell and you want to turn around and run! But you persist and walk in. It.is.loud. People are talking over each other and whoever is loudest wins.  You look around and wonder how you can leave when you just got there??

Social anxiety can crop up unexpectedly during the holiday season. There are some factors that you can’t anticipate…and then there’s the kind you can. For example: Interactions with my cousin. Name the topic and we have opposite views on it—everything from the COVID-19 vaccine to parenting to the best pie. It’s almost guaranteed that you are going to hear comments that set your teeth on edge. For example, let’s say my cousin shares a parenting strategy that I disagree with (a recent one was “You gotta show them who’s boss. Then there wouldn’t be all this nonsense about bullying”). This is a very predictable experience that I can probably write a script for. Moments like this can make time around the holiday dinner table stressful! There can also be family members that unintentionally contribute to the stress by their desire for everyone to “just get along.” It’s easier said than done, sometimes.

Let the festivities begin!

A Menu of Responses

When I go out to dinner, I love to look at the menu ahead of time. It adds to the anticipation and fun for me. When you are in social situations, it’s important to know that most comments can fall into one of two categories:  a support response or a shift response. This is your menu of social responses.

What’s the difference between a Support response and a Shift response?

A support response shows the other person that you are interested in what they’ve said and signals that you want to hear more from them.  It can be as simple as “tell me more.”  In fact, a simple phrase will increase the chances that you will remember it and use it. When you listen to another person about their interests, it creates connection.  You are inviting others to speak about themselves which in turn, makes people want to talk to you more.

A shift response moves the conversation from them to you. For example, a teacher friend tells you they’re frustrated because one of their students is acting up in class. The parents are blaming her for the situation because their child is “just perfect” at home and the principal doesn’t want to rock the boat. A shift response might be: “Oh, I’ve had an experience like that too! My customer is upset and says my product is bad. I think it’s a user error but they just want their money back. My boss wants to give in to them but that means I’m out my commission.” This response might make you feel like you are helping by offering solidarity and perhaps you are.

The order matters

It is best to show interest in your friend’s particular situation and learn a bit more before you make a shift response. Starting with “Tell me more,” or “That’s awful! What are your options?”  shows your friend you care about their situation and gives them the opportunity to provide a few more details. For example, you might learn that she hasn’t reached out to others on her team because she’s worried about being judged. Or, that she’s a first-year teacher and is unsure what her options are.  Jumping right into a shift response might make friend feel like you weren’t listening and couldn’t relate or offer help.

Avoiding a Lopsided Conversation

Both support responses and shift responses are useful during a conversation. If all your responses were only support responses, you would not get a chance to share anything about yourself. People can easily misunderstand that and wonder if you are withdrawn or secretive.

On the other hand, by doing too much shifting and too little supporting, we might end up talking too much about ourselves, leading the other person to feel ignored and as if you don’t care.  It’s critical to stay aware of which type of response you’re giving and to make sure to balance between supporting and shifting responses. If someone tells you about a difficult experience or a personal win, being mindful of this balance is even more important.

One emotionally intelligent path is to provide several support responses, show your interest, and give the other person the opportunity to vent about whatever’s bothering them or celebrate their good news.  After that, you can shift the conversation to you and share some experiences of your own. Using more support responses and fewer shift responses can help make every conversation easier and help you engage with other people more easily.

The back-up plans

Learning better ways to communicate and taking some of the guesswork out of a conversation are important things to learn. However, even great plans need a back-up sometimes. If you are trying some shifting and supportive responses and you can feel you anxiety rising, here are a few more options to try.

  • Strategic seating: Are there safe people you can sit between? The ones who know how to carry on a conversation or are comfortable in companionable silence as you enjoy your meal might be the ones to aim for.
  • Take a brief break: check on the kids, the score, the dogs…You get the idea.
  • Have a benign topic ready to change the subject: recent (fun) headlines, a sale, a new movie…
  • Exit strategy: You can offer to wash dishes, clear the table and have a legit reason to exit the room

Finishing touches

The goal is not to let a surprise and uncontrollable element of a social exchange ruin your night. Some mental rehearsal on your way to the event can help you feel prepared and more in control. Finally, try to keep your focus on your “why” behind attending an event.

If these suggestions sound helpful but it still seems too much to DIY, reach out to the professionals at Thrive Collective.

Want to know more about Dr. Menon? Check out her bio.