When I was a child, I liked to recap the books I read to my parents, and I read a lot of them. Finally, we bought a phone and my parents taught me how to use it to call my grandmother. So instead of running to my parents to tell them every single plot detail of the latest book I devoured, I called my grandmother and recounted the adventures of…actually I don’t know because I don’t remember ever doing this, but my mom said I did. I do remember reading a lot of books, namely The Babysitters Club, Nancy Drew, Sweet Valley High/Kids, and Encyclopedia Brown.
When recounting experiences or dreams, I realized I tend to go on and on, skipping parts, backtracking, piecing together details as I told them, just like I did when I retold the stories I read. It’s frustrating to the listener, and I realized that my storytelling skills would be better received if I actually applied storytelling techniques. I actually took a class called Storytelling in my first semester of college, but it never occurred to me to use what I learned in everyday discourse.
When we’re talking with friends, we just talk. Words spill out and stories start with, “Did I ever tell you…” or “Guess what happened to me.” Then we recount everything, going off in tangents, until the story is finally told.
And there’s nothing wrong with that.
It’s how we learn about each other and become a part of each others lives. It’s how communities are built and friendships strengthened. Because when we can share the mundane with someone, and that someone doesn’t tuck tail and run, then we found a friend.
But just as rambling words have their place, intentional words have their place as well. Less can be more if the words are right.
I’ve been talking about silence and stillness this week, and it can be applied to our words. Sometimes, silence works better than words. Sometimes, only a few words are needed to make a difference.
Before telling a story, answering a question, or making a response, stop. Pause. Here are some ways to be intentional with the words you say:
- Craft the sentence or plot the story in your mind before saying it out loud.
- Ask yourself, “Do I really mean to say…” before saying it out loud. Do you really mean to say, “I’m sorry” to a friend who lost a loved one or did you want to convey your condolences instead? Do you really mean to say, “I don’t think so” when what you really want to say is a firm “No”?
- Evaluate what you want to say. Will it contribute to the conversation? Will it change the subject? Will it diminish what another person just said? Will is devalue your friend’s feelings or problems?
- Choose the right words. Some words seem more rude than others even if that’s not the intention of the speaker. Furthermore, your tone conveys different attitudes that you may not mean to convey.
- Utilize silence. Think of it as white space in a conversation. Just like white space in interior design or publication layout can add depth, create a mood, or emphasize a piece, white space in a conversation (in the form of silence) can do the same thing. It can add depth to the relationship, conveying that you’re there to just listen or offer a shoulder to lean on. It can create a mood of solemness or peace or safety. It can emphasize what has just been said to allow everyone to think and ponder. Silence creates breathing room. Try it.