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Me monologues and the lost art of conversation

Have you ever had one of those one-way conversations? You know, the kind where the other person yammers on and on about herself or himself while you just smile and nod?

I'm often amazed at how many times you can talk with someone without them ever showing a flicker of interest in you.

What's really funny is to listen in as two talk-about-me types try to converse. It's more like dueling monologues than an actual conversation.

I recently attended a publishing convention where I had multiple opportunities to watch the self-promoters go at it. The dialogue went something like this:

"Oh, you were on the 'Big Name' show that tells the world you must be really famous? I just love that show. I had the best time on there last year. Isn't the 'We're-on-a-first-name-basis-because-we're-pals host just great? We just couldn't stop laughing."

"Yes, she's totally fabulous. In fact, her laugh reminded me of Ms. 'Bigger Name' on 'Channel Everybody Watches'. She must have giggled a hundred times that day I was on her show."

"Oh, she's a doll all right. You know her husband - who I chatted with in the green room when I was on that show - kind of reminds me of the CEO of 'Mega Bucks Brand' publishing house, who was just telling me the other day that I must give them first dibs on my new book."

"He's the best. You know he has the same dog walker as the 'I-make-people-stars' TV exec who approached me about a development deal last year."

"Yes, I do love TV. If it weren't for my huge contract with the 'Open Checkbook Corporation', which sponsors my nationally syndicated radio show, I would be doing TV myself."

And on and on and on it went.

What on the surface looks like a back-and-forth conversation is in reality two people just waiting for their next chance to talk. Each person processes the other's comments in the context of, "How does this connect to what I want to say about me?" Everything one says merely provides fodder for the other to twist back around to themselves.

I'd laugh at their self-absorption, but I'm sure I've done the same thing myself a thousand times. We all do.

It doesn't matter whether we're bragging about our kids, lamenting our marital woes, or describing the procedure for removing our corns, nothing is more fascinating to us than our own lives.

Yet while we may indulge a new mother by patiently listening to the gory details of her pre-term labor and the struggle to bring her nine-pound baby into the world, for the most part, endless descriptions of events we didn't attend and facts we don't care about do not constitute scintillating cocktail party banter.

So what does make for a truly interesting conversation?

Two keys: questions and emotions.

Questions because they indicate an actual interest in what the other person is saying, and they move you through the conversation together, keeping you both on the same subject instead of ping-ponging between competing thought tracks.

But, they have to be good questions. And that's where the emotions come in.

Instead of simply asking someone where they're from or what they do, truly great conversationalists look for the emotions behind the facts.

For example, if you discover that someone is a teacher, asking them why they chose that profession and what they like best about it is going to bring you closer to them than asking how to get your kid into the gifted program.

Delivering a "me" monologue may be appropriate at times. But if you find yourself leaving conversations with no better feel for the other person than before you chatted with them; chances are you're not really connecting, you're just talking.

Snellville resident Lisa Earle McLeod is a nationally recognized speaker and the author of "Forget Perfect." Contact her at www.forgetperfect.com.