Posted by: Phil Anderson | March 8, 2015

Are You Listening?

Conversations are difficult to write, but they’re also a lot of fun. There’s a big difference, though, between a conversation you read in a story and real-life verbal communication.

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Every word an author writes is meant to convey information to the reader, but a conversation shares a lot more than just what the characters are telling each other. The way characters speak tells a lot about their personality and who they really are. Vocabulary and grammar can indicate their level of education or where they’re from. The details they emphasize (and what they leave out) reveal their priorities and what’s important to them. The way they address other characters can show what that relationship is like.

One of my favorite (or at least most memorable) conversations to write was in my stage play, “Nothing But the Truth.” It’s a mystery/comedy and both characters had secrets, so I had a lot of words and meanings to juggle. I had to be true to what each character thought, what each character wanted the other to think, what I wanted the audience to think, and what I knew to be the truth. It was challenging, but also satisfying when everything came together.

But real-life conversations are not like that. They’re not carefully thought out and they’re often confusing. Information is misinterpreted and repeated and clarified. And sometimes communication is foregone altogether.

As I mentioned last week, we often assume that our thoughts are obvious to others because they make perfect sense to us. How often do we fail to communicate because we’re vague or we don’t explain well?

I’ve also seen it suggested that people spend more time during a conversation thinking about what to say next, rather than listening to what the other person is saying. How much do we actually hear and understand, and how much do we assume or misinterpret?

And these days it seems more and more people are communicating electronically, with words and emoticons on a screen. I’ve seen teenagers in the same room together who would rather text each other than speak. Is that okay?

What do you think? Do you enjoy talking to real people? Are you good at it? Would you rather type messages back and forth? Is conversation a dying art? Leave your comments below.


  1. I like to have conversations in real life much better; I feel like I can connect more personally with people. I realize that not many people share my perspective. I also admit that it’s easier to talk more freely through text messages, but is that really a good thing? I think that being able to talk freely with people in real life is a good skill to have, and I wish more people would try.

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