I am pretty easy to talk to. I’ve noticed it especially lately. And this seems to go beyond quietly listening. Sometimes all it takes is eye contact. Sometimes, just a guiding question. Sometimes, acting goofy. Growing up, I never talked a lot. I was always the one listening to and observing everyone else. I remember trying to make a conscious effort to be more of a conversationalist. Before then, I would listen, take sometimes up to a day to process what I heard, then respond much later after the conversation ended. It has taken me well into adulthood to figure out how to communicate. It’s not easy for me. At the same time, I don’t feel a huge need to fill every silence with talking. Let the pauses lie where they fall.
Take, for instance, this past month with the dating. Growing up, since I didn’t really know how to converse, I wasn’t much of a date, except for those guys who liked to hear themselves talk. But in the past however many years, I’ve learned to let my mind associate my own experiences with the words streaming from whoever’s mouth and give timely responses. And then, he does the same thing to me, and before I know it, I’m getting to know a person better and more quickly than ever before. And the better I get to know a person, the sooner I can tell whether I like him or if I should like him, or if he might like me.
Here are a few tools that help me get keep a conversation going (these examples can be used beyond the dating scenario):
“What does that mean?” Sometimes the other party will make some assumptions in his recounting. I won’t have any backstory, or my vocabulary bank might be closed for the evening, or a word might have a different implication that I’m just not getting. Plus, asking this question reinforces to him my attention. And of course he wants to make sure I understand, because I want to understand. And once I understand, I can respond properly. Even if I don’t understand, I can say as much, and I will let him know breaking up isn’t a sensible thing to do.
“Have you used any big words today?” This is a new one that I tried out on my roommate yesterday. I have to ask it in a way that doesn’t require that he answer with a specific big word he used, but invites a more open answer such as a big word he heard, or a bunch of small, overused words that annoyed him. Plus, this is a question that kind of sticks around. The next day, he’ll be keeping an eye out for big words, or he might plan to use a big word, and he’ll be excited about returning with a report. That’s one of my favorite things: continuing a conversation that might stretch over the course of a few days, a season, a few years, even after you’ve broken up.
Raising an eyebrow, or the furrowed, knitted brows. This is a natural response for me. I definitely don’t plan on the facial expressions I make, but I’ve become more aware of them. Again, this shows my efforts to understand the guy, and it may prompt him to ask what I am thinking. If not, (if he’s paying attention) he knows he’s got me thinking and might be getting ready for my response. He might even be wondering if I’m mad enough to yell at him for even thinking about breaking up.
Divert eye contact occasionally. I don’t know about you, but I get a little uncomfortable if someone just stares and stares and stares while I’m trying to talk. What I’ve noticed myself doing is looking away just for a second while he’s still talking, especially if my mind is formulating a thought related to what he’s saying. Again, he may notice this behavior and see that you’re actually paying attention, and this will help him more actively listen when you tell him why he shouldn’t break up with you.
Hand gestures. Sometimes I speak with my hands. Sometimes I playfully shove. Or I open my eyes wide during an exciting story. Sometimes I fidget while I listen which I need to stop doing, but I’d rather not because fidgeting is how I know my mind is starting to wander. Hand gestures are my way of re-engaging myself in a conversation. Eye contact does help, but to stimulate the mind in other ways to help nudge the listener can’t hurt. One hand gesture that might not help, though? The middle finger. If he would have broken up with you anyway? Totally worth it.
Touches to the arm. Again, bringing to the talker an awareness that you’re listening. You’re paying special attention. You want to bond. While I am somewhat of a tactile conversationalist, I don’t hang all over the person I’m trying to talk to. It’s too distracting, and it may give the other party the impression you want to do more than talk. If you do want to do more than talk, go for it. Touch his arm. Grab his arm. “Accidentally” trace your finger over his flexed triceps. Ask for a piggy-back ride, then hang on to both arms.
Smiling coyly. This is most effective with “flirty eyes.” It involves turning your head slightly to one side and smiling while looking down with a very strategic pause before bringing your eyes back to his. And sometimes you giggle. I have friends who are really good at this.
Biting your bottom lip. This brings blood to the surface of your lip and makes it look redder and fuller. This will make the guy forget about wanting to break up with you.
Whispering in the ear. This says, “I really want you to understand me, but I also want you to feel my warm breath tickle your ear so that perhaps we can make out soon.” And it doesn’t really matter what you whisper, even if it’s something like “The little puppy danced with the mako shark.” Anything is romantic when it’s whispered in your ear.
I have learned SO MUCH about communicating! I have learned to participate in a conversation, not just sit there and nod without giving any feedback. The more chances I get to talk to people, the more I improve my talking skills. Other skills might get better, too, given the list above.