Sunday, April 3, 2011

Conversation Holders

Up until about two years ago, I was a client at a children’s dentist office. Well, the Dentist had adult clients, but his office was designed to attract a younger clientele. How did I know? I think the McDonalds Drive-Thru play set or the posters with the hidden toothbrushes were evidence enough. It got to a point when I realized it was time for me to make new friends.

While I knew I wouldn’t miss the old posters, I didn’t think I would miss the conversation. The dental hygienists who worked there knew me. With each visit we would share stories about my first visit or how I never had any cavities. When I changed dentist offices, what I neglected to realize was that the conversations would change as well.

I acknowledge that keeping good conversation is a tough thing to do, and as I stepped foot in my new dental office for the very first time, I was prepared for a new adventure. As I sat in the waiting room, I began to wonder if they had space for a play set or some building blocks. What I found were walls covered with smiling faces and statistics about the, “Rise of Gum Disease.”

It wasn’t long before the hygienist came out to the lobby and called me into the back room. I wasn’t surprised to see that the walls were bare. I sat down and they began to work on cleaning my teeth. The silence was unbearable. Normally, I don’t think about the amount of metal they have scraping in my mouth when I am asked questions about life, family or work. But on this day, my hygienist kept talking about what she had packed for her lunch. I kept thinking, “Can this be real?” Here I am lying in this chair (at your mercy) with three separate metal pieces jammed in my mouth, and all you can talk about is your lunch? Do you not realize that after I leave I am not even allowed to eat?

I left with more than just a pain in my mouth, but in my heart as well – had I made the right decision?

I decided that I couldn’t let one bad experience keep me away. Upon my return several months later, I had the pleasure of keeping conversation with a new hygienist. From the first moment we met, I could tell she was a veteran. She had a sweet disposition and knew when to allow for breaks in the conversation so I could offer my insight as well. We shared stories about National and International affairs, our families, friends, education, etc. During all the conversation I started to forget that I was even in the dental office.

As we chatted, I began to wonder if the reason why she had so much to talk about was due to the fact that she was recycling old stories.

From that thought alone, my mind began to develop a question about all these people who are Conversation Holders in our lives. Does the person who cuts our hair tell recycled stories, how about the family doctor or the guy who cleans the officeat work? Are our conversations special? Or, are they just some regurgitated routine that they carry out with everyone they see?

It was at this moment when I remembered a conversation I had with a young optometrist. She told me about how when she was at school that “having conversations” was a course they had to take. She would sit there and watch as a number of her classmates went through the process of inviting a new patient into their office. As they carried out a mix of “small talk” and “professional jargon” she told me that a small number of the students appeared to lack basic social skills and how they would often refer to the “practice script” in the course text for guidance. “It was robotic and unnatural,” she told me. Can conversations be scripted?

Then I began to think about the guy who cuts my hair, Nico. He has often told me that being a Hair Stylist has to be one of the most interesting jobs in the world. On any given day, someone new could come into your salon and he continued to explain that it’s always a good idea to be up to date on everything because you never know what people might want to talk about.

When I go to see Nico, anything is possible. The last time I was there our conversation consisted of interesting uses of the English language. For example, why is it that a shipment travels by car, but cargo travels by a ship? Or, when you stand up, where does you lap go? Is a laptop still a laptop when you use it on a table? Why do we park on our driveways and drive on parkways? Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoy the conversation that occurs when I get my haircut.

While conversations occur everyday, they are not always easy to carry out. Is it possible that stories get recycled? Of course. I’ll never know if people recycle the same story over and over, but what I do know is that conversation is a two way street. If you think may be headed in the wrong direction, it’s perfectly natural to change the course.

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