Conversational black holes do exist but negotiating them is easy
The conversation goes on -- about the company’s results, sales and the perks.
Himesh chandra, a marketing guy, is in his elements. Subtly, cleverly, he steers conversation towards his favourite subject: himself.
His colleagues, observant as they are and habituated to how he manoeuvres the talk, notice the change, his mannerisms, rising, excited tone and view him as a pampered preppy, gratingly so much of himself, eager to show off at every opportunity.
“I cannot stand him yapping away like that,” says his colleague Venkat, another marketing guy. “It was fun at first, but his talking about himself as if we didn’t contribute to the results,” chips in yet another colleague Durga Prasad, “leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.”
In his pathological affinity for himself Himesh has lost the confidence of the people and screwed up big time among his mates.
In workplaces and offices, in homes and streets, conversation is as much about building rapport and vibes as about avoiding misunderstandings.
Workplace conversation, especially, can add value to the personality profile of a professional, apart from technical skills.
“In workplaces, conversational skills are as much important as technical skills,” avers Padma Bhushan Rao, a professor of sociology. “Generally, we are taken aback when somebody holds forth on taboo subjects like sex, religion and politics in workplaces,” he adds.
Include in that list bragging, building your cocoon and stiff formality, sketching about this or that, slagging off others, you then have all the conversational black holes.
Sometimes, most innocuous, close-to-chest, in-the-bones, individual preferences finding their way into conversation can unravel the rapport one built up at office. “Once I had a scary experience during a conversation over a cup of tea with a group of colleagues. It was totally innocuous at first but later on I started trashing a political party with which some of the colleagues sympathized. They were mad at me. Thank God, they didn’t wring my neck.”
In groups, “you got to be so careful not to rub people on the wrong side.” Now wiser, he says: “Even the rising tone, voice, finger-waving, clenched fists can have repercussions you wouldn’t have expected.” As people negotiate the black holes, “it gets very demanding watching yourself not to come across as a jerk out to step on others’ toes.”
Managers have their schemes to deal with conversation.
Shepherding a group of people with varied temperaments to a common goal has its share of kicks.
Friendly and interactive
“I take into account my team members’ views while reviewing the work and allocating resources,” says Gangadhar, a manager with a utility company.
In that way, “our meetings are friendly and interactive.” After all, “they are out in the field and they should know ground reality.” After work, “it is always a pleasant conversation and nobody is put on cross and made to bleed.” Fortunately for him, “teams are taking more interest and initiative, coming up with new ideas, and enjoying themselves doing the job.”
The conversation always is about workplace issues rather than about personal details.
In a personal matter like Bhargav Kumar’s, conversation played an important role.
He was about to fall into one such big black hole and disappear on his first date.
Trying to traverse the emotional distance, he gave coherence the go by. But for “my girl’s smartness and ease of manner”, he would have been one of the delicious ingredients for the next big bang, whenever that would come about. “Take heart, dear!” she had said and comforted him.