Be Playful

The Art of Conversation

Posted on: 13 May 2008

Real conversation has an unpredictability, danger, and resonance; it can take a turn anywhere and constantly borders on the unexpected and on the unknown.

John O’Donohue

Photo by polandeze.

Conversation as an Art Form

Conversation is an art form. It is a place of beauty and delight. When conversation flows, it can lead to great insight.

Similar to dancing, it involves movement back and forth. There is often a leader, and a follower, although this can change numerous times throughout a conversation.

Conversation is also a playground of the imagination. Many conversations follow predictable patterns, which is useful for beginning and maintaining relationships, but rarely leads to new depth or insights.

A beautiful, well crafted conversation can transform your life. There are some people who I can only speak to rarely, because I know that everytime I talk to them something within me will change and become new.

Tools of the Craft: Listening and Speaking

Photo by procsilas.

The danger of conversations is that we fail to fully enter into what the other person is saying. We are easily distracted, either by our own thoughts and worries, or by thinking about what we will say next. Two tools I have found helpful for moving beyond these dangers are active listening and centred speaking.

Active listening means listening fully and carefully to what they other person is saying, both in their words, their body language, voice tone, and emotional posture. Once they have finished speaking, it is often helpful to repeat what has been said in your own words, to clarify what you have heard, to absorb it into your being, and to clarify for your conversation partner their thoughts. Often we are unaware of exactly what we are saying until it is repeated back to us.

Centred speaking involves pausing for a moment to reflect before saying what is on our hearts. This moment of reflection allows us to be clear about what we are truly thinking and feeling, which can be very different from what we originally want to say. It shows great respect for your conversation partner that you care enough to get your words exactly right.

The Silent Stillness Where Ideas are Born

Photo by moriza.

Conversation can be awkward, especially during moments of silence. I often try to escape conversations that have become awkward by babble-speak, or more often, by leaving the room altogether. However, like any type of art, conversation takes a lifetime to master, and holding firm when things get difficult can pay great dividends. It’s often the most awkward conversations that end up being the most honest and truthful, and that end up changing who we are.

The Flow of Conversation

Conversations can be like the creative state of flow. In the state of flow, we are both challenged and absorbed by what we are doing. The worries of life move to the back of our minds, because the creativity and imagination of what we are doing takes hold of all of our being. The sense of self disappears, the beauty we are creating means we lose consciousness of our own presence, if only for a moment. Time becomes irrelevant, it disappears in a wonderful way, appearing not to exist at all.

Building Rapport: A Story

Recently I had a job interview that went really badly. I was nervous, I stuttered in answer to questions, and I failed to engage with my interviewers. Needless to say, I didn’t get the job.

The reason that I didn’t get the job was because the conversation with my interviewers didn’t flow. This was partly because it was a panel of seven interviewing me, and they were reading questions from a script. However, I could have worked harder to build rapport and to engage more fluidly.

Building rapport allows conversation to become more intimate. It liberates you and your conversation partner to be yourselves. Salespeople build rapport manipulatively, to convince you to give them what they want.

The ways to build rapport are known by most people, and simply learnt. Yet few of us take the effort to consciously put these tools into practice. The best ways to build rapport are to:

  • Hold gentle eye contact
  • Smile at the moments of delight
  • Mirror body language
  • Match tone of voice and speed of speaking

Some of these things we do naturally, others we have to learn. I naturally mirror body language and match my voice tone in any conversation that I am enjoying. However, I often forget to maintain eye contact and to smile.

Your Thoughts

What’s the best conversation you’ve ever had?

What characteristics did it have that are similar to being an artist?

How does ’conversation as an art form’ apply to blogging?

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.


21 Responses to "The Art of Conversation"

I don’t know what the best conversation I ever had was, but there was one or two I recently enjoyed because we didn’t have to look for words to say, we spoke openly and honestly about a variety of subject and neither one of us talk alot, but when we get together it’s amazing how much we have to say. I feel like myself when I’m talking to this person…just natural.

This is an awesome piece David. I think one of the greatest conversations I ever had lasted about 6 hours and involved a lot of coffee! I think it is the fluidity that makes them “artistic”. Many times in conversation I’ve thought this belongs in a play or movie.

There is a quote about silence that goes like this: “If you don’t understand my silences, how can you understand my words?” There is much to be said about being able to enjoy a comfortable silence with someone!

Chelle’s last blog post..Mending a Broken Heart

Thanks for sharing – I think openness and honesty are two of the best things about a good conversation. I’m naturally a quiet person too, but there are some people who I can talk to for hours and hours.

Thanks for visiting again! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. There is a certain fluidity to all great art I think – it just seems to flow naturally. It’s important to remember the amount of work that goes into something before you’re able to be fluid/fluent at it, and I think the same applies for conversation.

All the people I can talk to best I am happy being silent with.

I read somewhere, that most people already craft their response in their head WHILE they are listening to the other side speaking.

I was amazed, and dismayed, until I realized that I do it too!

Ever since, I’ve been making a real effort to truly listen. It’s harder than I thought!

Vered – MomGrind’s last blog post..My Name Is Vered, And I’m a Mommyblogger Wannabe

Hi David,

I’ve been reading a lot of posts about “the art of listening” lately….you know the saying “two ears, one mouth” etc… . You’ve done a great job by taking it a step further by writing about complete conversations.

Blogging is similar in the sense that comments will engage the blog author, plus other commenters. In the written words a conversation develops, community forms, and like minded people come together.

I like the conversations I have with my old friends. We can not talk for months, and then when we do, we just pick up where we left off.

BTW: I love your “if you’ve ever danced in the rain…” quote. It’s so fitting for your blog.


Thanks for linking back to my Listening article! I have spent the day at different doctor’s offices and what a nice surprice to come home to and read such a nice expanded post. I really enjoyed what you had to say about centered speaking.

And so true about those moments of silence!

I have to say, if you didn’t get that job, you probably shouldn’t have. Things work out the way they should for a reason!

Wendi Kelly’s last blog post..Balancing Balloons

One of my most insightful managers pointed out — you have to be fully willing to be wrong, to fully listen.

Another lessons I learned is to paraphrase more and echo back. It wasn’t enough just to listen. Folks needed feedback.

I’ve also learned to ask my team to echo back to me what they’ve heard, because I know they can fall into the trap of the inner monologue.

J.D. Meier’s last blog post..3 Interview Questions for Picking the Right People

It’s so easy to talk but it’s so difficult to master the art of conversation.

Chris’s last blog post..I’m Tired

I know – I had to be told that too and I was quite shocked until I realised how much I do it! It must be because people can think so much faster than they can talk, so it’s easy to think ahead. Plus we live in a highspeed culture – being in the present is one of the most difficult things to do


I’m glad you like my dancing in the rain thing – i’m hoping to come up with a different one for the end of each blog post. Feel free to send ideas my way!

I agree with what you say about blogging. I also think it can be difficult to remember to take the time to slow down and read blogs (and comments) properly. I’m always tempted to skim through because there is so much good stuff on the web… but then I end up missing the good stuff.


Pleased to have brightened your day, and thank your for your encouragement on the job front. I’m still looking, so if there’s anyone out there looking for a keen young writer!


I wish I had such wise managers and such a cool name.

Echoing back is very important, yet so few of us do it. I, for one, forget to most of the time


Yes I think much talking is like ‘scribbling’ instead of true drawing or painting. Yet there is so much accidental beauty too.


Conversational skill requires deftness, adaptability, clear eye contact, firm posture, smiley face and above all warmly yet commanding mannerism. Great article my friend.


Shilpan |’s last blog post..Rainbow of Simplicity

I love conversations. I love that one conversation — one true and intimate connection with someone — can change me. The best conversations are when they change both involved. That’s when I most feel connected to the Universe.

Jenn’s last blog post..Thoughts on Reality

Thanks for the extra tips! Posture is very important, as is the ability to be flexible and adaptable.

Thanks for visiting. Conversations that transform you and your conversation partner are always that best. That’s what any work of art should do.

The centered speaking is one I really need to heed more since I am always chomping at the bit to get my words in. Thank you!

I know what you mean, I can be like that too, especially when there is more than one other person in the conversation.

I think what’s interesting about my blog writing is that my advice is as much for me as anyone else. The things that I know fully I don’t feel the need to share about so much.

[…] conversation, n. art involving more than one person.  Often created using words conflict, n. creativity waiting to happen; the midwife of creativity creativity, n. being yourself children, n. playful people clown, vb. making sensible look silly; turning foolishness to wisdom celebration, n. playful memory curiosity, n. 1. remembering to look everywhere for goodness, magic and beauty, even when the world laughs at you for doing so; 2. refusing to accept anything at face value […]

I’m involved with a man who is totally annoyed by my habit of repeating back what he has just said in my own words. It drives him crazy! I wonder if you have any ideas about why this may be or if you’ve heard it before. He says it would be better to him to “build” the conversation by stating my own opinion or… I wonder about the gender implications of his position and wanted to let you know that no all folks appreciate the art of conversation as you define it. Thanks!

[…] conversation, n. art involving more than one person.  Often created using words conflict, n. creativity waiting to happen; the midwife of creativity creativity, n. being yourself children, n. playful people clown, vb. making sensible look silly; turning foolishness to wisdom celebration, n. playful memory curiosity, n. 1. remembering to look everywhere for goodness, magic and beauty, even when the world laughs at you for doing so; 2. refusing to accept anything at face value […]

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