The Way I See It: Making a voice connection

Michele Blais says the art of conversation still wins out over talking via text or e-mail

In our busy lives are we taking the time for conversation, or are we rushing through the news updates from friends and family and missing the stories, thoughts and opinions that make for an enjoyable conversation? Or perhaps a challenging one, that frustrates, educates and motivates us to action.

This week a very pleasant conversation with a woman about a recent column reminded me of slowing down and engaging. She reminded me that sometimes we are so busy we forget to just listen, chat, engage. And how rewarding this can be.

Our mom was a conversationalist. When you visited with her, whether in person or by phone, there was no TV or radio on for distraction: she was listening and sharing fully, totally present. A friend called her the Queen Mother, because she would hold court at parties we would have and from her comfy chair or lounger she would visit with one person at a time. Listening to their stories, sharing some of her experiences and allowing them to enjoy her full attention. She would learn a great deal in these discussions and this would surprise me because I would not have a clue about their story.  Why? Obviously I wasn’t setting the same space for them to share with me.

I miss my mother’s voice on the phone, in person, that cheery tone of hers and her always happy-to-hear-from-me response.

Over the years I have developed some great friendships that started over simple conversations and built from there. That’s how it starts: we talk, we connect, we build a relationship. Over a kitchen counter while we drop off kids for a play date, the sidelines of sporting events, kayaking, hiking or work environments; spend time together and something connects.

I was a bartender as a young person, in Fort McMurray, London, Toronto and Manhattan Beach, Calif. It was great money, and I enjoyed the fast-paced work and distance the bar gave me from my customers. I always liked to tend bar where there are bar stools, and I still like to sit at the bar when I go to a lounge. Bartenders participate in and hear many conversations, like hair dressers, barbers, estheticians and others in the service industry. When you have regular customers you share in their lives and their stories. Sometimes the bar is like a person’s living room, where they share their successes, celebrations and challenges with friends, and it’s sometimes easier with strangers. Like airplane conversations where someone shares a very personal story or fear, for the need to talk about this, get it off their chest and do so safely with someone they will never see again.

People chat in different ways. For some it is easy to engage and chat away, and they may not pay much attention to the other person’s needs to share or their story. Perhaps they live alone and don’t get the chance to talk to a caring friend or attentive listener and they want to take full advantage of this opportunity. Others may be the total opposite and are great listeners and share little of their own story. Somewhere I hope they do.

This is a season for conversation.  Campfire chats; walking in the neighbourhood seeing familiar faces; chatting over fences; sitting outside at cafes, hiking, drives, sharing meals together.  Taking the time to visit.

Talking is how we learn about each other; our histories; share information; educate; train; laugh; connect; grieve.  Today there is texting, e-mail, letters, Skype, but my favourite is still to hear the sound of a voice, how the tone can relay emotion, that is my preference.

I have a friend who plays backgammon with her husband every day after dinner. It is how they connect at the end of their day as they both have very busy jobs that leave little time for connection during the day. They have dinner, clean up and play this game, and in that time over a cup of tea or a glass of wine they share their days, hopes, dreams, fears or silence. That can be a great connection, saying nothing, but feeling safe.

With kids, meals, bedtime stories, drives, lying on the grass looking at the clouds, playing catch are all great settings for chats.

I know for myself I want to be present more, I have missed out on information shared because I was distracted. Being in the moment, enjoying the story, the sound of a voice and a human connection.

Michele Blais has worked with families and children in the North Okanagan for the past 28 years. She is a longtime columnist with The Morning Star, writing on a variety of issues and appearing every other Sunday.