If You Don’t Know All the Words, Just Hum Along

Good morning! I hope your day is off to a great start.

Some days I sit down at the computer for my morning post and my mind just goes blank. I know I want to write something, but I just have no earthly idea what that’ll be. It’s something every writer has to face at some point – writer’s block. It happens to all of us. And not just writers. Have you ever wanted to start a conversation with somebody, and your mind goes blank?

My grandson is one of those people who can never seem to have a conversation without planning it from start to finish at least a day before it begins. “I’ll just say this, and if she says that, then I’ll say something equally predictable …” Sound familiar? And in his case, planning may be a good strategy because I’ve seen him work off the cuff. It’s not always pretty.

I think we all tend to plan conversations, at least to an extent. Think about the last time you asked the boss for a raise. How many times did you mentally rehearse that conversation? And then what happens? You step into the office, close the door, and start with your well-rehearsed opening line. “Good morning.” And everything from that point forward goes completely off-script.

Call center employees know this feeling all too well. You have a script. You open the call with a standard statement or question. For every possible thing your caller can say, you have a scripted response with one common goal – no matter what they say, no matter what their objections, you will always end up right where you wanted to be.

The problem with that is, nobody shared that script with the other person. They don’t know what they’re supposed to say, and when they throw you a curve ball, you have to think on your feet. “Um, can you say something else? That one isn’t on my sheet.”

In comedy, we called that “working the crowd.” You ask a question, and no matter what the other person says, you have a witty reply that makes the whole audience fall over in uncontrollable laughter. The conversation always goes right where you want it to go. Until somebody gives you an answer you haven’t rehearsed. Then you’re left with that deer-in-the-headlights blind stare.

So, we were taught to group any possible response into a few different categories. “Where are you from?” They’re either from a major metropolis, the suburbs, the country, or some exotic location. And no matter what they say, you steer the conversation right where you want it to go. The audience thinks you’re brilliant. But it’s just another scripted conversation with a predefined outcome.

And if you stay and watch the late show, guess what happens? The comedian asks a random audience member the same question and, voila! The conversation follows the same pattern as it did previously, and you realize there was nothing improvisational at all at play. It was just another well-rehearsed part of the show.

Every time we go into our local discount club, there are people strategically positioned to intercept every person walking by in the hope of selling them satellite TV service or switching them to another electric provider. And the conversation always starts the same – “How are you doing today?” If you dare answer, you know what’s coming next. “Can I ask you a question?”

Maybe you stop and chat, or maybe you’re like me and politely take a pass. I can say “politely” thanks to my wife who is quick to let me know if I was anything but pleasant. But I know from the moment they begin to step out from the shadows where the conversation is going – they don’t care how I’m doing today, and they don’t really want to ask an innocent question. They just want to make a sale.

When we approach somebody else with a conversation we’ve rehearsed in advance, two things are likely to happen. First, it’ll be obvious to them you’ve put a lot of thought into what you’re about to say. Your tone, your patter, everything about the conversation is scripted. And, almost like clockwork, they’ll come back with a response you hadn’t anticipated. Now what?

Scripts are great for acting and public speaking. But in everyday conversation, a script will never replace a genuine, personal touch. Everybody you meet is different, and the moment you try to lump their possible responses into some pre-planned script, you’re no longer allowing them to think for themselves – you’re just leading them someplace they may not want to go.

As much as I wanted to sit down this morning with some words of wisdom solid in my mind, it doesn’t always work out that way. Sometimes you just have to play the hand you’re dealt. And the more we rehearse conversational skills instead of the conversation itself, the better we’re able to deal with the inevitable knuckle-ball that’s coming our way.

Nobody expects you to be perfect. Just be yourself and the rest will fall into place.

That’s all for now. Have an awesome day!

© 2019 Dave Glardon – All rights reserved

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