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Learning to play conversation tennis (by Ian Watto Watson)

Learning to play conversation tennis
Our defences of silence or anger come out when we don’t feel safe. What’s the solution? Can we talk?

If you’ve played tennis, you know what it means to have a good rally back and forwards over the net. Rallies work best when both players keep returning the ball over the net and keep the play going. We get in some nice little shots, a few relaxed backhands, a few overheads, and a few lobs, and we never try to put the other player off. Eventually someone wins the point but only after we’ve both had the best rallies backwards and forwards. The win never really matters, it’s the rally that counts.

We can liken this to good conversation, because we want the communication to keep going – just like a tennis rally. We may have a few shots or hard words and are not afraid to lob one up in the air occasionally, but if we trust each other we don’t want to play any shifty shots against the other person and knock them out of the conversation.

If, however, you think you can ace the other person with every ball, it’s a boring old game. The ball never comes back over the net. No rallies, no game, poor outcome. It’s the same with conversations – we need to keep them going until we’ve got the gold.

Can we talk?
Keep tennis in mind when you want to have a safe conversation – keep the ball in play. The person who you enjoy having those rallies or good conversations with will always be looking for another rally, because a fair and best outcome is achieved.

There can be times when the conversation doesn’t go anywhere, or it can be difficult. Be aware that you or the other person in the conversation:
• can have a hidden agenda
• don’t and won’t LISTEN, or is listening as a token gesture – you can learn to discern this
• are shy or scared of saying something wrong
• are ‘I’m not good enough, poor me’ people
• can want to hear your very personal story, but then want to do a runner without sharing anything about themselves
• can be an arrogant know it all – it’s all about ME, ME, ME
• can be a perfectionist – ‘look at me, look how good I am at everything’
• can be an emotional person who cries at the drop of a hat
• just ‘spit it’ and shut down on the other person as a weapon
• tells all their stuff and never asks how the other person is – this is very common
• finds fault with everything that is said
• delights in dropping big clangers on the other person
• can be patronising
• can belittle the other person – not a nice place to be
• says, ‘I know, I know, I know.’ But either they, or you, don’t.

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