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I experience conversations often as a non-pleasant interaction between me and another person. My natural reaction after such interaction is to avoid conversations, but lately I had to admit that this strategy has several drawbacks.
First, dealing with unpleasant situations by avoidance is a questionable strategy at least. Of course, some things that one does not like are probably handled best by ignoring. For instance, I don’t like Metal music, so I simply avoid locations and radio stations that mainly play Metal. There is no point in talking to the DJ that she should play different music. Nor would I consider a weekend seminar to discover my love for insanely complicated guitar riffs.
In contrast, avoiding the dentist when I have toothache is rather difficult. I could pop some pain killers and delay the situation, but this has a high likelihood to create an even more severe problem in the future. As Rainer Sachse terms it, each decision creates costs. The question is only how high are these costs and do they outweigh the benefits? This brings me to the second point.
Humans are social creatures, so most of us crave interactions with other humans. The degree of how often and how long we want to have these interactions might vary, but in the end most people will seek it. Similar to eating and drinking, it is not up to the individual if he wants to do it. So when you have to consume food and beverage, you at least want to make sure that it is something you like and can enjoy.
Coming back to the topic of conversations, there is no way to find “the solution” to unpleasant discussions. This would be as foolish as writing a piece about “How to only cook dishes that everybody loves” (not that this should stop you from trying, I guess BuzzFeed has an article with exactly this headline). Nevertheless, I believe there are several best practices that have a good chance to improve the quality in many cases. Again, it would be foolish to aim for a complete list. I think, even a small and incomplete map will be better than no guidance at all. Even the most detailed map can not replace your common sense, though.
So what are some common traits of conversations that I deem unpleasant? I would divide them into 2 types, even so they overlap to some degree.
the talk is not stimulating or straight down boring. This can have several reasons, like circling around the same point for too long; focusing on topics that are not relevant/interesting for the other; remaining on shallow points/scratching only the surface; jumping too fast between unrelated topics
one person tries to dominate the talk. This can mean degrading the conversation to a monologue; urge to debate and “win” the debate; having always the last word; always be “against it”, etc
one person tries to lecture the other. This comes often in the cloak of “I just want to help you (with my enormous wisdom)", but quickly turns into a paternalistic attitude where one claims to know what is good for the other, even better than the other himself. So this “well intended approach” might overstep boundaries, belittle the other and elevate oneself beyond a healthy level.
lack of humour. Excluding humour makes talking more formal, stiff and serious than it often has to be. There are good reason, why humour is supposed to correlate with intelligence. Who would advocate for excluding intelligence from conversations?
ignoring the order and flow of a conversation. Some see “small talk” as a waste of time, and a faked sign of interest of the other. This can lead to situations like:
Ignoring the flow from light, polite topics to more detailed and complex points tends to happen by accident, and can be disturbing for both parties.
Some talks are not directly unpleasant, but fell unsatisfying at some point or when thinking about them afterwards. Common traits of these conversations are:
Humour is an excellent way to approach difficult topics and reduce their sharpness. Especially, when you are able to make yourself the butt of the joke, it signals the other that you don’t take yourself to serious.