A recent post from Harvard Business Review on superficial chit-chat discussed the challenges of becoming friendly with co-workers. It begins: How often have you had the following conversation at work?
How are you?
This is a script “we stick to even if we are dying inside.” Such a script does little to develop friendships, and yet the article reveals some surprising stats: People who have a “best friend” at work are happier and healthier, and are seven times as likely to be engaged in their job. Those with friends at work have higher levels of productivity, retention, and job satisfaction.
Art of Conversation
I see something more fundamental at stake than friendship. What if we viewed conversations as the source of our lives and living? We consume food to enhance our physical wellness. What if conversational diets shaped our attitude, wellness, and mental and spiritual experience?
Try this. Notice when you are with someone who is whining or complaining about work or life. Are you left up or down, enlivened or drained?
If there is a conversational diet what are its nutrients?
To begin, let’s acknowledge that not all conversations are the same. Beyond their content is the meaning they convey. Whenever we chat, talk, or discuss with someone we are entering a minefield of meaning that can engage, enrich, inform, drain, or depress us. Let that sink in. Are you aware of your conversational diet and types?
Conversational Diet & Types
I offer four kinds of conversations found in our lives. I suggest we can shift the conversational diet we consume to share our experiences, enhance relationships, and even strengthen friendships.
Idle Talk. This level of conversation is marked by reflexive or habitual small talk and responses. It is automatic prattle, much like the script at the beginning of this article. It includes gossip, weather, simple feelings (likes, dislikes), sports teams, TV shows, or casual items from the internet or news.
Descriptive. This level of conversation includes sharing information or knowledge with details and specifics. It usually involves a desire to persuade or inform someone or to explore a topic together. Descriptive conversations are concerned with representing the facts of a situation and the world accurately. In most cases, these conversations clarify, engage, or understand transactions.
Expressive. This level of conversation moves inward to reveal our self. It can be vulnerable, emotional, or affective. We share personal experiences, invoking an immediate experience in others: a closeness, bonding, or relatedness that can invite others to open up. These might include sharing a recent setback, a marital struggle, how a pregnancy impacts your sense of self, or how a new role challenges your self-perception.
Generative. This level of conversation involves intention and action, facts and interpretation, conveyed in a way that creates action or insight. It moves the human spirit or evokes a commitment. A poet opens minds with generative language, as do leaders to engage action. Consider the moon shot speech from JFK:
“We choose to go to the moon in this decade … not because