During my secondary school days, I read Ola Rotimi's play "Holding Talks" as one of the many literary escapes that I indulged in whenever I needed some form of entertainment. Today, the television set has become the main entertainment among our youths.
Holding Talks was one of the most annoying books that I ever read. The characters wove a web of exchange of opinions, busy analyzing a situation surrounding a dead body and discussing what they should do with it, but they never actually lifted a finger to do anything.
If you have never read Holding Talks, I suggest that you get yourself a copy and enjoy it. It is an excellent illustration of the many talks that we hold today in Nigeria. Our conferences, meetings, debates, media interviews of people in power or who want to get into power; are all a part of the talks that we hold.
A little step below these formal talks is our small talks. Our dinner table, waiting room, and watering hole conversations. An American Image and Etiquette expert whom I once hosted in Nigeria for three weeks once reminded me of taboo topics that should never be discussed in polite conversation: Sex, politics, religion and money. I was forced to warn her that in Nigeria, the only thing we talk about is politics, followed by money, and then gossip about which celebrity was sleeping around.
Someone asking you how much money you made from a deal or how much you earn is not deemed as impolite. They are just making conversation. Someone telling you at a birthday lunch that one political party is full of rogues without bothering to find out if you have allegiance to any party, is just part of the conversation.
It seems that the rule about what conversational topics were permissible in social circles would not just work in Nigeria. The American lady did not understand my warning until she had attended a number of functions and then she promptly came to the conclusion that there seemed to be nothing else to talk about in Nigeria except politics.
However, if you would like to escape the Nigerian factor, you can pick up conversational topics such as God's love (talked about with a loving heart), best-selling books, the movies, new developments in science or medicine, sports (men love soccer), or current events.
The Art of Conversation
The international speaker, Mike Murdoch, once said that if a woman can listen to a man, that she can hold his heart. Cultivating a listening ear for your loved ones or the various individuals whom you come across everyday could be the single most important skill that you develop this year.
Showing genuine interest in the person you are conversing with is the first step to having a rewarding conversation. Prepare your mind to listen more than you speak. Ask your partner questions that show an interest in his or her person. Remember that people do not care what you know until they know that you care.
Good conversationalist leave a lasting impression that can take them a long way in life. A good conversation is like a volleyball game. The various participants take turns to make a contribution by hitting the ball back and forth so that they can all enjoy the game together.
Besides this, as a participant in a conversation be sensitive to others and watch out for body language that indicates that your partner might be bored, uneasy or distracted. We can all recall an incident whereby we were stuck with someone who went on and on about the different botanical names for common crops; or our former school mate who does not appear to have anything else to talk about except the good old days.
If you happen to stumble into this type of situation that could cost you the chance to meet other interesting people at a function, kindly extricate yourself by introducing the person to someone else whom they can bore to tears. Alternatively, take (don't ask) your leave by excusing yourself to the restroom.
Using the above tactics can save you from tampering with your relationship with the other person. There are few things more annoying than speaking to a person whose body language suggests that he or she is not listening to you. These extremely rude and inappropriate behaviour could include turning away, avoiding eye contact, displaying nervous habits such as twiddling hair or interrupting the other person who is speaking.
In order to improve your listening skills and build rapport with your conversation partner; maintain eye contact, ask relevant questions and do not interrupt them while they are speaking. Also avoid multi-tasking. Give the person your undivided attention. As a human development person, I have always said that people are more important than projects.
In Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People", he narrates a certain research carried out that consisted of a psychiatrist sitting next to a person on a six-hour flight. During the flight, the psychiatrist kept asking the other person questions about himself and never spoke a single word about his own life to that person. At the end of the journey, the person was asked about the conversation he had had with the psychiatrist during the flight and he promptly replied that it was the best conversation he had ever had in his life. Enough said.