Meta-Conversations: What, Why and How

Will Franks
Dec 16, 2019 · 3 min read

It’s time we talked about talking.

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What?

To evolve society, it’s essential we begin having meta-conversations: conversations about our conversations.

Why?

Society is the emergent product of our countless everyday interactions. It emerges from our conversations.

Essential for effective co-development is the realisation that we are constantly co-oppressing, co-suppressing, co-traumatising. These processes proceed through emotional regimes and invisible prejudices, all of which colour the dynamics of conversations. By making these dynamics the subject of our conversations, we can pick them apart, deconstruct, and transcend them!

This is how we evolve our relations into greater freedom and equality, moving beyond repressive emotional regimes and the systematised (and thus invisible) oppressions of modern society.

We move towards a listening society.

If your friend started singing, dancing, and joyously screaming “Love! Love! Look at this, look at this — Oh the Magical Universe!”, would you try and stop them? Probably. Or it would be so strange and embarrassing that you’d shrink and hide. Think they’re crazy. Feel uneasy and uncomfortable. Join in? Never, ever. But if a child did this, everyone would celebrate, their hearts filled with warmth. How adorable, to see a being so free and creative! This is the freedom of childhood! Of radical honesty and unhindered self-expression. And since freedom is collective, radical self-expression gives rise to emergent group expression. And that’s where co-development happens, i.e. the development of society itself.

But we can’t arrive at (or return to) these kinds of social freedom and spontaneous free expression without working through our highly ordered conversational patterns — patterns which reinforce the modern social order of mutual emotional repression, as well as the structural oppressions of sexism, racism, classism, able-ism, ageism, and more.

Judgement, shame, anger, embarrassment, guilt, fear, egocentricity— all of these and more restrict our conversational dynamics, and thus our capacity for self-expression and connection.

How?

In a pair or in a group, start a conversation about conversations.

What differentiates good ones from bad ones? Rewarding from frustrating? Exhilarating from exhausting?

Slowly, slowly, proceed — and start to bring the dynamics of this very conversation into the conversation. Start talking about your emotional and embodied responses to others’ words — and the way they are delivering them. How do you feel right now? Why do you think you feel this way? How do you think others are feeling?

As with psychotherapy, it can help to follow the principle of sharing that which you are most reluctant and uncomfortable to speak about.

Are some people dominating conversation? Why are they doing that?

Who isn’t talking? Why? Are you feeling okay over there?

You can pick apart people’s choice of language too. Often people will say things like “everybody thinks” or “you think”, when actually they mean “I think that..”. And so on.

Break taboos. Get uncomfortable — you don’t grow inside your comfort zone. Conflict and tensions are opportunities to evolve and understand.

What’s more, you will find that turning to meta-conversations is a helpful way to improve your relationships and communications with people in your life. For example, instead of approaching your friend directly about the touchy subject of an unresolved conflict between you, you could say:

“How would you feel about having a conversation about {our conflict}?”

I know this is a difficult conversation to have. It makes me feel awkward and I’m worried that you’re going to judge or disown me. But I think it’s important. How does it make you feel?”

We’ve tried to talk about this before, but I know I got defensive and started talking over you. Let’s try again and I’ll try not to be so reactive.”

Gail Bradbrook said that, given most people would not engage with her on the topic of climate breakdown, going meta and asking “how would you feel about having a talk about the climate crisis? would you feel comfortable with that?” was a way in to opening a proper dialogue.

You get the idea. Discussing conversational dynamics can instantly add deeper layers to our relationships, helping us work through our shared blockages and better understand our interdependent relational-emotional landscapes.

Go meta. Talk about talking.

Who?

Everyone! Every conversation can be enhanced by a meta-turn towards its dynamics.

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