I just got back from two weeks of vacation with an inordinate amount of socializing. In addition to the normal catching up I do with friends in the Bay Area, I also attended a wedding which brought many friends from out of town. It was delightful to hear what everybody is doing, and to pick the brains of the smartest and most wonderful people I know.
In all of the talking I was doing, I noticed that I felt that I had the most interesting conversations when I was just talking to one or two other people for an extended period of time. After some reflection, this shouldn’t have surprised me. It’s another version of the communication catastrophe that companies face as they grow. When in a party atmosphere at one of the wedding events, everybody’s time is spent giving the “two minute recap” of their life. You form a group of a few people, each person gives their recap, and by the time you start talking about something else, the group has broken up and reformed with different people. The conversation flow is constantly being interrupted.
But during the times when I reserved a few hours to go hang out with specific people, I had some great conversations where we dug into some really interesting ideas that will inspire several blog posts going forward. I’ve discussed the idea of better living through conversation before, and those ideas were reinforced here. Spending a few hours with the same person or people allowed us to get past the two minute recap, and into the life issues confronting us. It also allowed the conversation to drift to topics of mutual interest, which were specific to the people involved in the conversation. The conversations I have with Person A will be different if we are alone, if we are with Person B, or if we are with Person C, because the overlapping interests will differ. In a party environment, the groups shift too fast to discover those overlaps.
I need a balance of both kinds of interactions. While I was in the Bay Area, I was generally structuring my day with a few hours of one-on-one time with people before heading out to a big group dinner or event. The deep meaningful conversations are inspiring but somewhat exhausting, whereas the shallower social interactions provide the phatic communication that maintains social connections. I think either one alone would be unfulfilling, but the mix works for me.
I wonder if there are ways to structure our environments to encourage that sort of mix. Perhaps a workplace with an open cubicle plan to enable background social awareness that also offered plenty of small meeting rooms for one-on-one conversations. Getting this mix right may be one of the reasons I loved living at TEP – the boisterous dinners where all were present contrasted with the late-night conversations in various rooms. I’m not sure how to change my living environment, so for now, this post is a reminder to make sure I don’t fall prey to thinking that socializing only means going out with a crowd.
P.S. I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned this before, but one of the great benefits of writing this blog is that it lets me launch into those deeper conversations more quickly, both because it lets me skip the two minute recap, and also because it enables others to find the areas of overlapping interest. I’ll be chatting with somebody and they’ll say “Oh, I read this post of yours and it got me thinking…” Sometimes it won’t even be that direct – just an awareness that I think about these sorts of things and bringing up issues of concern to them. So I appreciate the conversations this blog spawns both directly and indirectly.