Updated: Jun 17, 2020
Have you ever replayed a conversation in your head? I hope I’m not the only one. It’s kind of like sawing sawdust, but we do it anyway. You know how it often plays out, right? I can’t believe I said that. That sounded so dumb. That came out all wrong. I could tell it didn’t go over. They were bored? Uninterested? Or did they just think I was crazy? What an awful impression I made! Why didn’t I just keep my mouth shut? On and on it goes.
On the other hand, it could go this way. I wasn’t at my best, but the past can’t be changed. How can I do better next time?
Shifting from a negative to a positive way of viewing ourselves can be tough. Also, there are times when we think we have kicked the negative habit, and then we suddenly have a relapse. Permit me to share some thoughts that I hope will help with a positive approach to “conversation replay.”
Perfection versus excellence: Someone has humorously said that a perfectionist is someone who takes pains and gives them to others. The sad part is that they also give pains to themselves by means of unnecessary pressure and stress.
In this regard, a paradigm shift is often needed, one that recognizes the difference between excellence and perfection. Let me illustrate: if a golfer hits the ball off the tee and ball winds up three feet from the hole, that's excellence. If it goes in the hole, that’s perfection.
We likely will not have perfect conversations generally. First, we are human and make mistakes. Secondly, there are too many factors over which we have no control. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the criteria for a "perfect conversation" is subjective. It cannot be definitively defined and is subject to individual interpretation. A general approach to conversation with excellence as a goal is much more realistic than a "dot-every-I-and-cross-every-T" approach with perfection as the goal.
Multiple contexts: It’s easy to forget that in every conversation, there are two (or more) who are communicating from their personal contexts – for that day. Involved are the physical, mental and emotional circumstances in which they are involved at the moment. Though context affects how we communicate, we must remember that it also affects how the other person listens and responds. Difference in backgrounds also plays a significant role. Many, and sometimes uncontrollable, factors enter the picture. So, we need to cut ourselves and others some slack.
Avoidance versus excellence: Do you have those in your life with whom you try to avoid having conversations, because such efforts are always awkward or challenging? I guess we all do. Does avoidance help? “Absolutely,” someone says. But let’s look closer: often this avoidance approach to conversation is not a real solution, unless we want to disconnect completely from the person. Otherwise, we have a non-solution to a recurring uncomfortable situation which a lack of communication only makes worse.
It is highly unlikely that a conversation with a difficult conversationalist will be perfect. What if we were to simply settle for excellence as the best possible outcome? Who knows? With that approach we might eventually turn awkward into awesome.
Ego is the enemy: One definition of self-consciousness is, “uncomfortably conscious of oneself as an object of the observation of others” (Merriam-Webster). Egotism, on the other hand, is defined as “an exaggerated sense of self-importance.” Might there be a connection between the two terms?
Though I’m not a psychologist -- and I want to refrain from making blanket statements -- there are times when we can give too much consideration to what others think of us. Author Olin Miller said, “You probably wouldn’t worry about what people think of you if you could know how seldom they do.” Though a bit cynical, perhaps his perspective is more realistic than we think. The problem, though, is that ego (“exaggerated since of self-importance”) often disagrees. As a result, it makes us more self-conscious and less effective in conversations -- and then tortures us afterwards with regrets about what didn't go quite right.
By the way, the opposite approach to self-consciousness -- the "I-don’t-care-what-anyone-thinks" attitude -- is also the product of ego. Both extreme attitudes cause problems in relating to others and create barriers to excellent communication.
CONNECTOR TIP: What we need most for conversations is not replay and regret. What we need most is to “just do it” to the very best of our ability.