Conversation is an essential social endeavor, at the heart of being human. Conversation is dialogue, not monologue, though some people seem not to know it. It is also not diatribe, for anger just isn’t that interesting. It does not create ties that bind. Connection is what conversation is supposed to be about. We talk to share; we listen to care. It could be as simple as that.

Cool Hand Luke“What we have here is a failure to communicate.” This famously sardonic line from the movie ‘Cool Hand Luke’ has secretly amused me over the years. Only pros like me would note that “here” is an homonym of “hear”, the base line of communication.

So what to do if communication fails? Good humans have strategies and here are some of the best:

REPEAT: say the exact same thing again. You may say the words a little louder, slower, and with improved enunciation. This requires little effort – try it, but don’t be snide with your tone, please.

REPHRASE: think, revise or reword your message. The intent and content of the message doesn’t change, but you search your mental dictionary for equivalent words and phrases. Don’t worry – you should have lots of them, like a quiver full of arrows to assure hitting the target.

SHOW: Use gestures, drawings – or take your listener to the item or place you are talking about. This is where pointing comes in. This can require more time and attention, but isn’t clarity worth it?

Above all, you need to care: about the person, the message, the connection. Without other people there’d be no need to talk – and wouldn’t that be boring!

Let’s not forget the listener’s share of conversational repair: to listen and give signals and/or requests for further information and repair as needed. Even a raised eyebrow or shrug of the shoulders can accomplish that.

Being understood, fully acknowledged and understood, is the best gift that we can give each other. It’s commitment, kindness, and attribution of human worth. Get out and converse!

And if someone like Paul Newman shows up, I repeat – – – but it might be called stammering.