An Atheist, A Christian and a Buddhist Walk Into A Bar. . .

The title of the blog post by Andy Braner appeared in my Facebook news feed, and made me dive deeper for the punchline. But, as you’ll see if you’re inclined to do the same, it wasn’t a joke at all. It was the story of a better, albeit unlikely conversation.

You pick the venue — home, school, work, play, sex, religion or rock & roll — what might happen if we had more actual conversations — as opposed to talking at each other…protecting turf, pressing an agenda…pushing for a win? That is what Andy’s story is about.

And it made me think.

What if when we entered the room, we weren’t positioning…strutting our stuff?

I was seated at what I thought would be a quiet table in the corner of a neighborhood spot. While it turned out to be anything but quiet, it was the best seat in the house for off-the-marquis entertainment. A big-voiced guy decided to hold court with everyone within earshot. As a few who knew him approached with a greeting (for reasons I can’t imagine), they became unwitting participants in his performance.

Your day? Oh..I can top your day. Your car? Mine is bigger, better, faster. Your college football team? Can’t really stay on the field with mine (score of the game notwithstanding). The speeding ticket you got? You should have my hook-up — I never get a ticket. And on. And on. And on.

This guy talked constantly. Keeping up with his banter became a game. What would he one-up next? By virtue of decibel level alone, he dominated the room. But little was said. There was no conversation. And judging by how quickly most sought to extricate themselves from his presence, there was no connection.

It was easy to be irritated. But I have to admit that I found myself wondering whether, when it comes to real connection, there is much difference between what I’d just heard, and far too many of the communication opportunities in my life.

“Busy Being Fabulous”

If you’re an Eagles fan you likely recognize this as the title of a track on Long Road Out of Eden. And the song is a poetic description of the problem — not only of the guy in the restaurant, but the reason so many attempts at communication and interactions go nowhere.

I know from personal experience — when I’m preoccupied with being heard, I’m likely too busy to engage in conversation.

Conversations begin in the silence of intentional listening. This is that rare air where the agenda is connecting. Not evangelizing. Not posturing.

It makes little difference whether we’re talking about the marketing message of a brand, the boardroom examination of a strategy, a cause or deeply held belief, or the evening-around-the-table discussions about how the day went — real communication (and progress) will be in proportion to the quality of the conversations taking place. Not the eloquence of the message.

Better conversations begin when egos are checked at the door, posturing and positioning abandoned in favor of finding common ground, and progress measured in terms of bridges built.

We’ve all witnessed, or (he said with embarrassment) even been the loud guy in the restaurant. But if we buy the idea that relationship trumps everything — and I do — some attention to what it takes to have better conversations seems worthy of exploration. So here’s one idea on where we might begin. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Whatever the venue, subject matter or vocabulary, at least part of what it takes to instigate better conversation is a willingness to be intentionally quiet . . . and listen.