One quick tip for way better conversations

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“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings,” said Stephen King, riffing off of a William Faulkner quote about writing. King and Faulkner were pointing out that the best writers are willing to erase portions of their writing that don't fit the larger story, even if the writing itself is good.

It’s the same with conversations. The best conversationalists are willing to go with the flow instead of trying to insert a thought from a few minutes ago wherever they can, even if that thought is clever, funny, or insightful. They're willing to give up contributing any given idea in order to be more present.

As you’re listening to someone talk, you might come up with a great tangential point (or question) that tries to fight its way out of your mouth. You may feel unwilling to let go of that point. You may think it’s crucial for the other person to hear that point. But if you cling too hard to making sure you get to share your idea, you might spend your conversation figuring out how and when your thought can fit into the next few seconds of silence instead of actually listening to the person talking to you. And when you’re not present or listening, others may sense that you’re not really there with them, and they may feel less connected to you (and you may feel less connected to them, too).

Of course, expressing yourself is crucial for making a conversation feel connecting, but sometimes, the determination to communicate a particular given point can get in the way of being present with whoever you’re talking to. So the next time you’re dying to share a specific thought while someone else is talking, you might want to experiment with letting your thought go. Don’t try to remember it for later. Don’t write it down. Just acknowledge anything you’re feeling (frustrated, maybe, but anything else that comes up is worth paying attention to, too), and give yourself permission to let go of the thought. Then, get back to listening to the other person.

Killing your conversational darlings can be a tough habit to get into, but the freedom to be present instead of needing to figure out what to do with a particular passing thought might feel more connecting and satisfying than giving into an urge to blurt out what’s in your head. Try it on, see how it feels, and don’t be surprised if it takes a while to get the hang of it!