Develop conversational sensitivity so you can better understand people
- At every opportunity, engage in conversation with people
Ideally choose people you would not usually seek out – people of different ages, races, backgrounds, socioeconomic status, etc. This will help you expand your worldview.
- If possible and appropriate, research their work industry or type of situation. Alternatively, be respectfully inquisitive at the moment.
Preparation shows that you are interested and will usually make people feel more willing to share information and personal thoughts. Alternatively, try to find what excites the speaker. If they are passionate about it, it will be interesting to both of you.
- Pay attention to the speaker's verbal and non-verbal communications
Focus. Try to pick up not just subtleties in expression and meaning, but also revealing inhalations, pauses, facial expressions, body positions, and fidgeting.
- Back off if you suspect you’ve stumbled onto a touchy area
Respect boundaries by gently changing the subject and be gracious in not knowing.
- Notice your reactions to the conversation – thoughts, feelings, bodily reactions
This is a combination of interpretation of what is said and how you feel about it. To become better at listening and conversing includes knowing our personal sensitivities. For example, say someone tells you that your outlook is “original.” If you are the type who often feels somewhat out of step, then you might take “original” to mean “oddball” when the person may have meant you were refreshingly unique.
- If you find yourself reacting, shift your perspective to one of curiosity
Knowing you have a tender point can help you. If our automatic reactions take over, we can’t make progress in expanding our horizons. Start to think more broadly about what the person may have meant and to engage further to find out for sure.
- Be open to, and seek out, different perspectives
There will be things you can relate to and subject matter you find surprising. It all helps increase your understanding of yourself and other people.
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