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5 Lessons on Communication, Awkward Conversations and Patience

Have you ever encountered someone who was an awkward conversationalist? I recently had an uncomfortable exchange with a fisherman at our neighborhood lake.

I was walking my dog, Logan, around the perimeter of the lake (one of our favorite places to walk). The fisherman seemed to be watching us approach which put my instincts on alert. As we got closer, I realized that he was watching Logan.

As we passed by he asked me, “Is he a killer?”

I probably should have been alarmed, but the question was so utterly ridiculous that it made me smile. (Logan spends most of his time under the bed. He is the opposite of a killer.)

We passed this man on two other occasions over the next month or so and each time he asked the same question, “Is he a killer?” My emotions went from bewilderment to fear to irritation to humor.

Our exchanges were brief and so memorable that I ranted about them to friends and family for several weeks. I wondered out loud, “Why would he ask such a weird question?”

The third time, I actually did laugh out loud when he asked the question. Feeling very brave, I asked him, “Why do you ask?”

He replied, “Oh, that’s just a question I ask people. It’s a conversation starter.”

Well….it certainly was.

I’ve got to say his opening line did not make me want to sit down and have a cup of coffee with him (and as a communications specialist I might advise him to adopt a different opening line). But it did make me wonder: “why did my path continue to cross with the fisherman?” I hardly ever see the same people twice at the lake. I knew there must be a lesson in it so I began to look at my assumptions.

Lesson #1: Awkward though it may be at times, we all need to connect. In the end, I am convinced that the fisherman was telling the truth when he said he was trying to make conversation. My instincts tell me that he probably asked the same question to everyone who passed at the lake. And, all the data I took in about the situation and this man confirm that his was essentially a friendly question.

Lesson #2: It can be easy to judge – but first impressions don’t always tell the whole story. While my impressions told me to smile and keep walking, I have to admit that there were judgments hidden within my fear. I had to take note of that.

Lesson #3: Everyone deserves to be treated with kindness. The fisherman was curious and awkward. We all need human interaction. We all deserve to be treated with kindness and love and respect.

Lesson #4: It is good to pay attention to our instincts. Ultimately, I don’t think the fisherman and I were destined to be great buddies and I still wonder about his fascination with my dog, but my instincts tell me he meant no harm. While I won’t be having a cup of coffee with the Fisherman anytime soon, he will always receive a smile from me.

Lesson #5: It’s good to ask follow-up questions. Sometimes, it’s good to take a step back and ask, “Why do you ask?” or “What do you mean?” A simple question can clear up a world of misunderstanding.

Who is your fisherman? Is there someone you know who is worthy of a follow-up question? Ask someone who least expects it. The answer may challenge your assumptions.

© Kathy Sturgis, Ph.D. Kathy is founder of Refreshment Zone and is an organizational and personal development specialist with a doctorate in communication. Contact for more information on motivational programs.

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