Practicing my conversation skills

November 14 2018

His­tor­i­cally I have been very bad at having reg­u­lar con­ver­sa­tions about normal stuff (ie. non-work stuff). I don’t know what to say, and I tend to ramble. Some­times I ramble about things that are way too per­sonal, and I’ve embar­rassed myself many times because my ADHD keeps my filter from engag­ing, and I just keep on going.

In the moment, it’s dif­fi­cult for me to dis­cern whether a thought will follow the flow of the con­ver­sa­tion, so (to be safe) I jump on board, spill my heart out, and soon learn that I have no idea where I’m going with this. Com­mence awk­ward­ness as I back­track and reori­ent myself.

This year I made a point to prac­tice talk­ing, and that feels strange to say. A part of me feels like prac­tic­ing to talk is unnat­ural, like some­thing a robot does when they’re learn­ing to be human. I feel like I should already know how to do this.

So when I com­mute alone, I started repeat­ing cer­tain phrases that I stum­ble over. I learned how to add empha­sis to con­so­nants over the vowels to help me artic­u­late past my Louisiana accent. I pur­pose­fully started adding pauses in the middle of sen­tences, rather than in between sen­tences to give me time to manage the next idea, and to judge whether or not I should allow it to escape into the world. 1

Oper­a­tional­iza­tion. Oper­a­tion-nali-zation. We focus… on oper­a­tional­iza­tion train­ing… for employ­ees. Oper­a­tional­iza­tion.”

There’s a major self-care part of this.

When some­one leans in because they can’t deci­pher my mumble, or when they jok­ingly repeat my syl­la­ble mis­step in the Dumb South­erner™ car­i­ca­ture, my heart sinks, and I fight back a wave of emo­tions. Bring­ing me into the light like that isn’t par­tic­u­larly funny, and I fre­quently feel ashamed.

This year some­thing changed though. For the first time in my entire life, people have started com­pli­ment­ing me on how I speak.2 

The first time was after Cre­ative­Morn­ings. After the main speaker, I was given the oppor­tu­nity to show my con­crete sculp­ture and say a couple things about it. Before I went up in front of every­one, I prac­ticed. I repeated prob­lem words, went over tough phrases, and prac­ticed paus­ing.

After­wards, some­one found me and said they love how I spoke to every­one. You were engag­ing, funny, and had the atten­tion of the room. And I like your con­crete stuff.” I nearly cried. That’s never hap­pened before. Quite the oppo­site usu­ally.

And yes­ter­day, at the end of an actual 45-min con­ver­sa­tion (back and forth, not just me ram­bling about how we’re in a sim­u­la­tion), me and Sarah walked out of the gym and she said I’ve been coming here for two years, and you’re the first person I’ve had a real con­ver­sa­tion with.” 

Both of those women gave me a won­der­ful gift. Some­thing changed for me in those moments. 3

If you find your­self unhappy with how you inter­act with people, or how people inter­act with you, take a small step in a direc­tion that makes you the hap­pi­est. Prac­tice every­thing you want to improve, even if it feels silly.

And when you see the oppor­tu­nity, give those gifts of sup­port to every­one around you. You may never know if some­one has prac­ticed saying the phrase gar­gan­tuan” every­day during their morn­ing com­mute.

  1. Lara Hogan’s book Demys­ti­fy­ing Public Speak­ing is very help­ful, and I have lent my copy to every­one on my team.

  2. These com­pli­ments are on the con­ver­sa­tion itself. My wife how­ever, gets all the com­pli­ments on how NPRsound­ing her voice is. Listen to the latest episode of Art Funk pod­cast to hear it! People are totally right.

  3. Other big moments for me: knock­ing on doors for Beto, having suc­cess­ful phone calls with clients, having rela­tion­ship-​build­ing 1:1s with my design team, and when I give talks.