Not being a native speaker and being has given me an extra privilege in being able to assess my conversation partner’s ability to empathise and engage.
There are some conversations where the person who I engage in the discussion dismisses me from the onset – they think that I won’t be able to string good and coherent statements. Some of them take the obvious route of saying things r-e-a-l-l-y slowly, complete with the kind matronly expression as if I were a 5-year-old doofus. Some have a lot more finesse in masking this attitude – but I can still sense it nevertheless. There is a faint sense of pleasure when I detect a sudden change of tact when they realise that I can speak English well.
I was engaged in a conversation recently which prompted me to write this post. After I introduced myself to my conversation partner (not entirely graceful, me being an introverted guy and all), I was hoping to have a short discussion with him before moving on. Then, in a millisecond I detected it. That flicker in the eye which basically said, “Uh oh. Can somebody please rescue me from the ensuing conversation?”. A suddent dart of the eyeballs that scanned the room away from my eyes. Having sensed it, I quickly jumped into the meat of the topic and allowed him to change his judgment. We ended up having a cordial conversation and then parted ways pretty well.
That conversation makes me think about the art of conversation – not among friends, mind you, but between acquaintances and strangers. It’s that first moment of grace that we bestow on our conversation partner – that we are willing to invest a minute or two engaging with them. Even if we put on our best behaviour, our eyes will still tell the truth about our level of patience, tolerance and attitude. It’s in that split second after the introduction when our mind gives the conversation partner a thumbs-up-and-go-ahead or a thumbs-down-and-depart-ye-from-my-presence kind of attitude. Of course this process go both ways, and that there are a lot of factors that need to be considered – such as the level of shyness and introvertedness, conversation skills, and so forth.
So the next time you are in a conversation with a complete stranger or somebody who you don’t know, come on, give the other guy a chance, extend your ‘grace period’. Even if you watch your body language and a seemingly-sincere smile is plastered on your face, your eyes are telling the truth about you. Don’t form your judgment so early in the discussion – you may be pleasantly surprised! 🙂