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How to Deal with Negative Conversations

Nourishing Conversations


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		  Nourishing Conversations   

Good conversation is nourishing, not depleting. We should  reasonably expect some return on our conversational investment.  This article explores some of the reasons certain conversations  deplete us and what we can do about it.  Ways Others Deplete Us   

1. Some people are just plain toxic. They are chronically angry,  or depressed, or nattery and picky, or whiney. Being around them for  an exchange of words also results in an exchange of emotional energies. They get your “good energy,” and you get their toxic energy. a poor trade-off. (This is a main reason why social workers burn out.)   

2. Others are verbal tyrants. Argumentative and opinionated,  they are always spoiling for a good verbal fight. They seek to dominate the conversation, if not with reason, then with blabbermouthing and shouting. As linguist Deborah Tannen wrote in her book, The Argument Culture (1999), we live in a societal context of argument instead of dialogue. Spending a half-hour with such a tyrant will almost always be depleting.   

3. Fixers, advice-givers, and proselytizers deplete. These people  want to convert you, improve you, or at least to fix you. They think  they know how you should be, what you should think and believe.  Unless you invite the fixing, you will find yourself defending against  their sermonizing. Arguing with them rarely accomplishes  much because they are accustomed to responding to challenges.   

4. The simply ignorant, including bigots, are energy-sappers.  These folks utter clichés and beliefs they have acquired along the  way. You will learn nothing new here because they have long ago  made up their minds and are not open to new ideas.   

5. The painfully shy and unresponsive, among them some  unintelligibles and mumblers, don't reciprocate. Some people are  just plain hard work to talk to because they are so reticent. Even  when in a safe situation, they offer little and prefer simply to observe.  This means you will have to carry the conversation, which quickly  gets out of balance. These folks don't reciprocate and don't contribute  much to the flow of conversation. (However, if you have a high  “need to be needed,” you'll be attracted to these energy-sappers.)   

6. Takers-but-not-givers will want to use your knowledge  without offering anything in return. Some of them even show up in  support groups. They take away a lot, but they rarely offer anything  of value to the others. The exchange is never even, and you'll probably feel something unfair is going on. (It is.)   

What's Needed to Feel Nourished   

Conversations need not be significant to be satisfying. Small talk  among friends, when “good energy” is exchanged, can certainly be so.  Even though this kind of talk is often empty of new information, it can  be filled with relationship meanings like friendship and good will. An  example described by poet Ezra Pound, “It rests me to converse with  beautiful women. Even though we talk nothing but nonsense, the purring of the invisible antennae is both stimulating and delightful.”   

Most conversations are best when balanced, so that participants listen  with some interest (instead of just waiting for their turn); actually exchange views and stories; share useful information and understanding; are energetic and upbeat; and are sincere and personal rather than merely strategic. In order  for a conversation to be nourishing, there must be some nutriments available in our partner's head or heart.   

Not Our Responsibility   

Unless we are professionals, trained in what we do and paid for doing it, I don't believe it is our responsibility to   

--draw out the wallflowers 
--educate the ignoramuses 
--repair the broken-hearted 
--therapize the toxic ones 
--de-convert the proselytizers 
--or challenge every blabbermouth 

Be Selective   

If we want to feel good after talking with others, we must offer value  to them and also expect value from them. During our active life-times,  we have limited energy and time. It's best to keep our distance from those who deplete us and hang around those who nourish us with fresh ideas and good will. Give yourself permission to choose the persons you don't talk to as well as those you do.  


Loren Ekroth ©2012, All rights reserved.

Loren Ekroth, Ph.D. is a specialist in human communication and a national expert on conversation for business and social life.

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