Silence. I could hear the truck rumbling and the traffic around us as we were crossing the bridge.
But inside the car. Absolute silence.
I’ve known my dad for almost 30 years now. We surely have a lot in common and plenty to say to each other.
SO WHY CAN’T WE MAKE ANY CONVERSATION NOW?
I have no idea whether that was a thought in his head, but it was in mine. Any futile attempt to make conversation was met with no more than a one word response. I pointed out a damaged light pole and said “Jeez, look at that”. He looked, but said nothing.
It’s easy to point the finger and say, “Why is it so difficult to talk to him? Why isn’the talkative right now.” But the truth is, it’s both of us.
I’ve seen him have countless conversations with other people, so I know that’s not the problem.
What is it? Is it me? Am I not interesting?
What the hell is the problem?
The first problem was my lack of empathy.
In short, empathy is the ability to put yourself in somebody else’s shoes. To see the world or a situation from their point of view.
I was doing none of that. In my head I was saying things like, “How can I get my dad to have a conversation with me? Why won’t he talk to me?”
These were selfish thoughts and I was only thinking about myself. Now, I don’t think it’s bad to want something and to try to get it. I strongly believe people should pursue the things they desire.
However, if you want to make conversation with somebody you already know, there is a much better way to go about it. For instance, if my goal is to talk to my dad, I should try to figure out what he wants to talk about, find out what’s on hismind, figure out what he wants to do.
Maybe he’s not talking because he has something on his mind. I could ask him, “What’s on your mind. You seem like you’re deep in thought.”
Maybe he’s just not interested in what’s been said so far, but would want to talk if he liked the topic. I could ask him, “What are the biggest things going on in your life or at work?” I could also try bringing up topics that I think he might like.
Either way, nothing I had said up to that point had been interesting or important enough to get my dad to keep talking about it. Had I been more empathetic though, I might have been more successful.
You might be thinking, “Why would I only focus on what the other person wants? If I only talk about what other people care about, I’ll never enjoy any of my conversations.”
I have two responses to this.
First, my goal was to have a conversation while we were driving. I wasn’t in the mood to think deeply or sit there in silence. I wanted to simultaneously connect with my dad and practice my conversational skills.
Second, and more importantly, the goal is to find and talk about mutually interesting topics. You may have to weed through some other things that aren’t as interesting to you first, but eventually you want to have some sort of dialogue that engages and intrigues you both.
People connect on their shared interests and values. By being empathetic, you can better uncover and connect with some of theirs.
Once you’ve put yourself into an empathetic mindset, you need to follow through.
I love this quote and believe it so much.
People work so hard to accomplish something, don’t see results, then give up. Little do they know that often times they were so close to pushing through to the other side.
When I was younger I used to LOVE skateboarding. I put my heart and soul into it. I would spend months trying to land one new trick. Literally, I would spend hours every single day practicing one trick.
I specifically remember one day when I was by myself practicing nose-bluntslides on my homemade rail. I was getting so close, but just couldn’t stick it. It started getting dark out, and after falling on the asphalt yet another time I got so frustrated and decided to call it quits.
I was really pissed to say the least.
But as I was heading in, I realized that I probably had five to ten minutes before it would be too dark to skate. Knowing that this was the only skating I would get for the rest of the day, I turned around and gave it a few more tries. Voila! I landed it.
Of course, you’re not always going to succeed right after a failure. But if you stop trying then your chance at success ends right there.
When I was with my dad I stopped saying anything after a few attempts at conversation. I thought to myself, “I put all this effort in and it’s obviously not working.”
But is that really true? Was failure purely because I didn’t use the right “tactic”?
I don’t believe so. And as you’ll soon learn, that wasn’t true then either.
Successful people aren’t successful because they win at everything they do, but because they keep trying until they win.
I had a friend in college who was great with women. I was jealous because it seemed like he could get any girl to like him.
One day he was telling me that he kissed this girl Sara, and that she rejected him six times before she finally kissed him back.
Do you know how many people, including myself at the time, would have thought, “I guess she’s not into me, no reason to keep trying”? Perseverance is one of the most important aspects of success.
So when I was with my dad, I decided to keep trying. I wasn’t going to give up.
I knew that he was involved in the redevelopment of the Port of Long Beach, and asked him if he knew when the new bridge was going to be completed. Not only was I trying to persevere by asking another question, I was being empathetic by asking him about something in his wheelhouse (that I was also interested in).
And that was all that was needed. The floodgates opened and we talked for the rest of the 15 minute drive. Not only about the bridge, but other things like business and investing as well. Once the conversation was going, it was easy to move around to different topics.
Use this lesson to your advantage. If you’re struggling to make conversation with people you already know, use empathy to let them know you are interested in them and their thoughts. Don’t give up. Be persistent and ask that additional question. Make another statement about something they might like.
You just might be one question or statement away from an amazing conversation.
About Rob Riker: Rob helps people create amazing relationships and build a social circle of truly great friends – the type that always have your back, even if you just moved to a new city. Want to see how? Get his free 3-Step Guide to Destroying Loneliness and learn how you can make 5 new friends in just one week.
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