When thinking about the art of conversation, a friend of mine, Tahir Atwater, likened it to traffic. He said a conversation that is flowing, in which all parties involved, and everyone feels engaged and heard is “good traffic.” That is, while there are a lot of folks out on the road, everyone is going at the right pace and people are getting where they need to go.
On the flip side, he said conversation can also look like “bad traffic.” This is when, again, there are a lot of people out on the road. Some cars are going too fast – others are going too slow – people are getting stuck. It seems certain folks are asleep at the wheel, while others have their horns blaring. This can lead to a rise in tension, nobody is getting where they need to go anytime soon, and frustration abounds.
Three cheers for good traffic! Let’s just leave well enough alone and keep encouraging that to take place. When it comes to bad traffic, though, perhaps there is a role we can play by serving as traffic cop whereby we help the bad traffic to become good traffic after all. Here is Tahir’s advice:
- Traffic moving too slow? This is when someone is trying to communicate a point, but is taking too long to get there. Perhaps they lack focus or are over sharing. Maybe they are taking up all of the time available and not leaving room for others to comment. As traffic cop, gently urge them along. Maybe remind them that you want to ensure that others get a chance to respond and/or share their points of view and experiences.
- Traffic moving too fast? This is when someone is racing through their comments, not doing enough to explain a situation, leaving out important, relevant information and ideas. As traffic cop, slow ‘em down. Provide space for the individual to more clearly explain their commentary by asking questions and encouraging them to add the necessary details.
Your work to ensure more productive conversations and interactions will be appreciated by all and keep traffic flowing.