When conversation fails

I was walking with my son Peter today and we got onto the subject of Tiger Woods and his very public downfall. I don’t think Peter and I were quite on the same page.

(Peter)  “I wonder if he’s running out of money.”

(Dad)  “He must be bored just sitting at home – he must come back to golf soon.”

(Peter)  “Well he does watch adverts.”

(Dad)  “A lot of people do watch telly all day.”

(Peter)  “No, I mean he does watch adverts – like for Rolex!”

It’s so easy to get the wrong end of the stick, particularly if one person is thinking ahead and not truly engaged with their partner. It’s a bit like two people travelling in the same direction on two parallel roads – they share something in common but have their own distinct agenda. For me it underlines the importance of high quality listening – fully engaged and a terrific skill for anyone looking to build relationships.

Independent columnist Brian Viner tells a wonderful story about conversation. It concerns a state banquet where Prime Minister Harold Macmillan entertained the French Premier Generale de Gaulle. During an awkward hiatus in the conversation, the Prime Minister’s wife attempted to make small talk with Madame de Gaulle. “Tell me Madame,” asked Lady Macmillan, “if you could have anything in the world, what you would wish for?” “A penis,” came the reply. The table fell silent, forks suspended in mid-air. “Non, non,” said the General, “she mean..haaapiness!”

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