You can determine the personal value of your conversations by comparing them to the foods and drinks you consume. Do they nourish you? Do they increase your energy? Are they emotionally satisfying? Or do they deplete you and leave you drained?
Nourishing conversations often provide a mental stimulus for thinking, “food for thought.” Or “food for feelings” such that you feel better emotionally, perhaps uplifted or inspired.
Hundreds of books and blogs on personal health counsel “avoid junk food and drink.” No fattening Twinkies, no “big gulp” sugary soft drinks. No artery-clogging fatty foods.
This same advice is helpful when choosing your conversation partners. Some of them might be serving you “junk food for thought.”
Three common examples from among many:
- Those who sing their same song, “Nobody knows the troubles I’ve seen.”
- Those who spew poisonous gossip.
- Those who dogmatically rant their political opinions.
You’ll know by how you feel after an encounter. If you feel drained, weary, or upset, you’ve probably been fed “junk food for thought.”
Some conversation content is just plain hard to digest. If you get mental or emotional indigestion during an encounter, it’s best to avoid that person. (You can be civil, but also brief. Or you can say “I’d rather we not talk about that” and transition to a more satisfying topic.)
Just as some of the best physical food we can buy and consume is available in farmers markets. There the food is fresh and organic, free from preservatives, thus healthy and nourishing. As well, the vendors can tell you how and were it was grown or made. So can some of your fellow customers who have tried a certain vegetable or cheese or bread.
(As an aside, a recent study by sociologists concluded that 10 times as many conversations happen between customers at farmers markets than in supermarkets where customers rarely interact as they push their carts.)
Sometimes we are fooled by conversations because although they might seem enjoyable to eat, they are empty of nutrition, just like the standard salad fare in many restaurants, iceberg lettuce. Compared to red leaf lettuce that’s rich in bio-nutrients, iceberg lettuce is a flop.
I’ve been reading a fascinating new book, “Eating on the Wild Side: The Missing Link to Optimum Health” by Jo Robinson (2013). She gives examples of unusual vegetables and fruits to consume for better health. (Have you had any dandelions recently? Fresh beet juice? “Royal Anne” cherries?) Ms. Robinson also tells you which is the most nourishing produce to buy in your supermarket. (It’s unlikely that your produce manager knows this.)
Two main rewards of quality conversations: They’ll stretch your mind and lift your feelings. So, as a rule, seek out persons who give you these.
How? Here’s an exercise you can do in a few minutes:
- Make a list of 10 people you regularly interact with.
- Score them according to the nourishment they communicate during a typical conversation. Let 100 mean “always nourishing,” 50+ “pretty nourishing,” less than 30 “rarely nourishing” and less than 10 meaning “depleting.”
- Spend your time with those you score above 50 and much less time with the lower scores.
Reprinted with permission of Dr. Loren Ekroth, publisher of “Better Conversations” weekly newsletter. Free subscriptions at www.conversationmatters.com