How empathy, inquiry and a zest for life can help you be become a better conversationalist.
We Humanists tend towards intellectualism. It’s a double edged sword. One the one hand, we know a lot of stuff, and we are opinionated. On the other hand we tend to lecture instead of discuss. If you have ever been lectured to you know it isn’t a conversation.
A conversation implies equal input from the various participants. For that to happen, we have to not monopolize the conversation. We also have to actively encourage other people to talk. The good news is that application of Humanist principles can help us achieve a good give and take that is the hallmark of a good conversation.
The Farnham Street blog posted a lovely article listing hints and tips on how to cultivate the art of conversation. http://www.farnamstreetblog.com/2013/08/the-art-of-ordinary-conversation/ Many of these tips speak directly to how a Humanist can become better at conversation.
1) Be genuinely interested in what others have to say. This will help keep you from monopolizing the conversation and it will also endear you to the other participants who most likely would relish an opportunity to share their thoughts.
2) Foster inquiry not debate: Humanism encourages us to engage in freethought and to challenge our own thinking. Use conversations with others you disagree with as an opportunity to learn what others think and why. This is a conversation, not a debate. Don’t treat it like a competition. Consider it an opportunity to have your own thinking challenged by someone else. And yes, this does require you to respect and have empathy for the other person.
3) Don’t be negative. Don’t refute what the other person is saying. Build upon it. Humanists are skeptics and we love to doubt. But there is a way to introduce doubt without shutting down the idea. Instead of saying, “no. I don’t believe that.” Or “no, that’s not true.” Why not entertain the possibility that it is true (out of respect) and then introduce a challenging thought or twist or play devil’s advocate. Or even ask questions via the Socratic Method. That way it isn’t you imposing your lecture and knowledge on others. It’s you as an active participant entertaining the ideas of others which, even if you all agree to disagree, the other person will appreciate greatly.
Now, having put forth this list I can honestly say that I fail at this a lot. More than I like. But when I am able to push my normal nervousness aside by focusing on my compassion and interest in the other person, I do much much better. How about you?