Conversational Tennis

by maximusaurus

I don’t know about you, but when somebody asks me about the things I’m interested in, they might as well be opening a vigorously shaken beer can. Few things make me as happy as talking about Godzilla movies, Nintendo games, or my stories, and I can get so excited and fixated that I could literally talk for hours.

Unfortunately, that may not be how the person I’m talking to would rather spend the next few hours of their life. As I have trouble reading social cues, I would often miss signs that they were becoming uncomfortable or bored and would rather change the subject. This led to a lot of one-sided conversations that were a real drag on my attempts to develop my social life.

In order to avoid this, I came up with a set of rules to stop myself from monopolizing the conversation. Firstly, I make sure to never stick to the same subject for more than a few minutes, unless the other person is clearly very enthusiastic about it too. Even if it’s something I really love talking about, I keep a conscious tab on how long I’ve been talking about the same thing, to stop myself from settling into a monologue.

Secondly, I try to remember to ask lots of questions. This is helpful on multiple levels; not only does it keep the conversation flowing and makes the other person feel included, but it also means the burden of driving the conversation is shared between us. Instead of doing all the work myself, I can hand over to them for a bit and take a breather.

I find it helpful to think of a conversation like a game of tennis; somebody asks me a question, (serves) and I “hit” it back to them by answering the question, and asking them one in return. The focus of conversation moves back and forth between us, like the ball. Sometimes we might mess up and it goes “out of bounds”, but that’s okay, just grab a new ball and start again.

To be honest, I still find conversation difficult. It moves so fast I feel like I don’t have enough time to properly process my sentences before I have to speak them, so I’m always analysing if what I just said was appropriate and proper, while also trying to figure out what to say next and how to say it, and process what the other person is saying, all at once. My brain turns into a traffic jam of information, and I get flustered or lost for words.

But the more I practice, the better I get. Even the best tennis players in the world have hit the ball out of bounds a million times. The important thing is that they kept trying.