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On conversation

Have you ever seen two people at a table at a restaurant struggling to make conversation with each other? Has that happened to you with anyone? It's happened to me before.

Dan Gilbert, in an interview with Chris Anderson, talks about such a situation and says, "These people think that they have run out of things to talk about. But, they didn't have anything to talk about in the first place. What they have lost is the will to say nothing to each other anymore."

I find that quite powerful. I often find myself in conversations where I have no real interest in the topic being discussed either because I've discussed it a hundred times before or because there are much more interesting topics I could be concerning myself with. However, I find myself engaging these conversations anyway because the point is not the topic of the conversation itself, but the formation of bonds with the person or people I'm conversing with.

As Dan Gilbert puts it, when we have a conversation where we ask someone how their weekend was or what they think of the weather, we are not gaining any new information that is of any real use to us. But these conversations help establish connections and maintain connections with the people we have them with. This is very similar to baboons grooming each other and picking nits out of their fur. Conversation is a lot more about establishing bonds than about exchange of information.

When looking at everything with a lens of productivity, it is easy to miss out on the intangible gains in relationships with those around us. But, it is a core human thing to engage in such activity.

If you find yourself feeling like you have run out of topics to talk with a person, ask yourself if you're still willing to say nothing to them with a lot of words.

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