What are you talking about??

While many of us would like to think we have solid communication skills, I sometimes find myself asking, “What are you talking about??”  When I’m stumbling in conversation, I know I have to do something to address the problems.

We all experience those uncomfortable reminders to “fix” a conversation.  But how??  We can start by asking clarifying questions, advocating for ourselves in conversation, and use our strengths.

Here is a quick “oopsie” conversation I had a while back, with me immediately noticing the parallels that my clients suffer when we talk (So sorry!! I will do better!!). I was in a professional meeting, and did not hold the social power (e.g., I wasn’t in charge of the meeting, ugh) and I found myself floundering.

  • The conversation started with the rather innocent query: How are you?
    • Sometimes it is hard to know if this is the grocery store version [Q: How are you (I don’t care, but I have to ask) A: good, you?] or the actual THERAPY version of how are you.
    • A quick note of social power – the person with the implied social power often helps guide the conversation, sometimes by asking, “Right, but how are you REALLY?” or might ask the more subtle, “I’ve been thinking of you. How have you been?”
    • My social gaffe in a professional meeting:
      • Q: how are you?
      • A: (Me, recognizing that I don’t own the social power…gak! What??) Good?
      • My solution: recognize the social power, and how I sometimes accidentally make others uncomfortable with the “simple” opening of how are you. I’m now trying to be more specific, especially with my clients. I’m also encouraging my clients to ask questions of my questions (Why are you asking me about this? What type of answer do you think you want?)
    • The meeting then went toward the actual content, including the query: What are your goals?
      • Me: (What, how would I know?? Do I do this to my clients??  Also thinking: I was asked to meet with you regarding this product that I don’t understand, and you want me to identify my goals??  I have no clue!!  See also: What are you talking about??)
        • My answer in the moment: Um, a better functioning whosiewhatsie?
      • Again with the social power – and product knowledge power this time. This professional really knows her product, and I was completely caught off guard by being asked for my goals for the product.  I KNOW I do this to my clients, sometimes by asking, “How can I help?”
      • My solution in the meeting – advocating for myself
        • “I think I want this feature, but I’m out of my depth. What are some typical solutions that might fit for me?”
      • My solution with my clients – offering suggestions, practicing advocacy/self-advocacy
        • “Sometimes folks have goals such as x, y, z. Does any of that sound in line with your goals? What other things might you like?”
      • Using strengths…
        • When any of us are floundering in a social exchange, wondering “what are you talking about??” we can turn to our strengths. Helpful if you know your strengths!
        • In this conversation with the professional, I was willing to ask clarifying questions, know who could help me translate the answers into something I understood, crack jokes, use humor to lessen the tension, and ask for time to think.

The next time you find yourself struggling in communication (and you will, because you are human!!), you, too can ask clarifying questions, advocate for yourself, use your strengths, and maybe even own your own social power to make things better for others in conversation!