Mel Schwartz, LCSW

Do you Have Real Conversations?

For the most part we rarely engage in genuine conversations with one another. We rely upon formatted questions and answers that we exchange with each other, our words resembling ping-pong balls being sent to and fro. We deliver and parse data with each another and ordinarily leave the engagement more or less the same as when we entered it, save the uploading of new information. But we aren’t truly conversing. We aren’t sharing our true self- only the part we want seen-the safe part.

Real conversations require our full participation. This is the space where two people participate in an unfolding conversation. Genuine conversations invite the sense of “us” the space where a participatory reality unfolds. How do we achieve this authentic experience of conversation?

To do so, we must let our guard down. The barrier that we build to protect how we want to be seen precludes authentic conversation. Socially learned rules of engagement isolate us as they instruct us against appearing weak, vulnerable, ignorant, assertive or unhappy. These exchanges betray our authentic being and thwart our growth, individually and relationally.

When we release our need to be seen in a particular way we can then move into the space between the other and me. In this space there arises the potential for a participatory unfolding of two people where the conversation isn’t predictable or predetermined.

This engagement moves well beyond the transactional exchange of data points. “What have you been up to?” prompts “Oh I’m so busy with the kids and vacation plans I don’t have a minute to come up for air.” Or ask, “How’s the job going?” and you can anticipate, “Pretty good, can’t complain.” The proverbial, “How are you?” necessitates the automatic, “Good, and you?” There’s no conversation occurring in these exchanges. These transactions are routine, robotic and self-protective. And they are dehumanizing.

To enter into authentic conversation—the realm of participatory relationship—requires that I drop my defenses and release my armor. When I embrace my vulnerability and allow the conversation to enter the realm of the uncertain— the possibilities of genuine engagement are summoned.

When the conversation enters into unknown territory don’t pull it back into the retreat of the familiar. Ask a new question, one which you’ve never considered and be present for the response. Or share a part of yourself that you’ve kept hidden. In the unfamiliarity of a new dialogue, you’ve both entered a sacred space, a space that allows you both to truly relate. A real conversation is an adventure into the unfamiliar where two people present their authentic self, unguarded and welcoming the uncertain. This is where new possibilities await.

More From Mel

Podcast 073: Your Best Chance at a Successful Marriage

Become the author of your life’s script: The Possibility Principle

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Shallow conversation encourages the sense of separateness, of being alone. As you suggest, moving beyond the cursory check-ins unveils the reality of our being all one.

Matthew Selznick

well said Michael.

Sylvie Stanley

Excellent article and very timely. Engaging in an authentic dialogue is very enriching for every one. Thank you for the reminder Mel.

A concerned human

My shared response(without the need to be recognized)and what I have gathered thus far is that self awareness is our gift of human. However this gift is ignored as like you said, we are caught up in competition for the same empty meaning of self and this self is the the only identity one knows. I have witnessed that on one’s dying bed is when true self is realized as the physical self (self made identity from memory) is then becoming vunerable to its frailties and weaknesses and of course our need to protect throughout our lives. Thus most likely why not very many responses to this article as protecting even what one reads is on full alert. Remain wonderful super Mel. Special note and something “I” value is that our society and/or culture is where we receive our value and self worth, however we were all born priceless.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x