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What makes a good conversation, good?

Imagine that the prevailing lockdown has ceased to persist and you get a weekend away, alone, to spend in a quaint chalet, just upstream of a gently roaring river. The weather is impeccable, and the skies are clear. There is no din of traffic, and neither is there any news channel opining about the failure or success of the current government. The evening brings along with it, a tender chill in the air, and the sky turns a dark purple adorned with glittering diamonds. You sip your favourite drink while sitting in a cushy armchair, listening to the steady crash of waves on the riverbed and the soft rustling amidst forest pines. Doesn’t this remind you of happier days?

But is it enough…?

For a couple of hours, definitely! Maybe for a day or two if you’re suffering from a particularly nasty case of cabin fever! Probably a week if you just started writing a new blog, and have enough content to write through a few days, non-stop! Perhaps a month, if you want to isolate yourself from the world and introspect deeply, with or without the occasional help of harmless hallucinogens!

But what happens post that…?

Your mind will incur a feeble itch. You’ll stare at the horizon, trying to spot some soul you can call out! Now you wish that your family or friends had accompanied you to this beautiful place, just so that you’d have someone to talk to when the margheritas run out and the itch spreads.

Since you are in a carefully worded blog post, you have the liberty to rehash the first paragraph and make a quick edit.

Now you have a weekend away at the same place, but with friends and family; and once each individual enjoys his or her private space for a bit, the conversations flow freely. There is a light banter over breakfast, exciting plans discussed during lunch, casual debates along with a cup of tea, and some profound reflections over dinner and drinks.

Perfect right? But is this how you remember every trip from the past?

At times, the conversations are not quite so dreamy. There are breakfast quarrels over the previous day’s events, heated arguments over tea, and some harsh truths disclosed over drinks and dinner!

Ouch! Not so pretty now, is it?

I’ve been in such conversations more times than I care to recount, and I have never managed to side-step them to this day! It’s just so darn difficult to place a finger on the exact issue in these cases! But, recently, I had one such conversation, and it got me thinking… a bit too much.

But context first lads! A true man or woman does not form opinions based on fluff pieces!

The Conversation

Me: Did you watch WWDC’20!!!!

Rick: Yeah, what a bummer.

Me: Say what now?

Rick: I mean if they meant to copy Android anyway, why take an hour and a half to get to the point!

Me: I cannot BELIEVE that’s all you took away from the keynote!

Rick: What else? Apple Silicon? What’s so great about that?

Me: Umm…, how about better hardware-software compatibility, native support for high-performance graphics based on Metal, better thermal management, freedom to improve battery life?

Rick: Geez, what a fan-boy!

Me: You know what! Never mind. Why am I even discussing this with you! You’d probably end up buying a Samsung phone even if it BURST IN YOUR STUPID FACE!

Rick: FINE! Let’s talk later.

Okay. Let’s clarify some points first –

  1. That conversation was not enjoyable, apart from the fact that it was equally petty

  2. We had opposing opinions, but on a well-established global fact. The Android vs iOS rivalry is as old as the platforms themselves

  3. Both of us had some obvious anger management issues, which is arguably the topic for another blog post

As soon as the call ended, I opened my laptop and immersed myself in videos that described and praised WWDC with as much enthusiasm as I would have. Of course! I needed to prove to that jerk of a Rick that his argument had no leg to stand on!


I know that he supports camp Android, and I know that I am a bit of an Apple fan-boy. I know that technology is a topic dear to my heart. I know that both of us have strong opinions, and I KNOW that exhibiting Apple innovations in front of an Android advocate is nothing short of shooting yourself in the leg, twice.

I know all these facts, and yet I choose to have this conversation and regret it a minute later. What am I expecting from this conversation? No clue. As a matter of fact, what do we expect from any conversation and what makes them good? Let’s put on our legal suits and go at it!

Argument 1: Conversations are good when the subject matter is of personal interest.

I will not humour this argument in the SLIGHTEST, because the above case was a perfect example of a topic that I deeply love, hacked to bits. So, meh!

Argument 2: Conversations are good when the participants share the same backdrop.

I’ve had unsatisfactory conversations with my sister, my dad, my mom, my school friend, and ten other folks, who were born and raised in Mumbai, and work in the IT industry!

Argument 3: Conversations are good when the outcome is in your favour.

Hmm…, maybe this one has some muscle. Generally, conversations with a unilateral agreement do end up to be more pleasing. But, I’ve also had some conflicting conversations that I remember and cherish far more than the ‘Yes-Men farce’ I mentioned earlier. But let us park this one for later.

Argument 4: Conversations are good when you enter it without a pre-conceived bias.

This argument has far fewer legs to stand on than Rick’s anti-Apple spiel! Just remember your last conversation with any obnoxious Uber driver, and you’ll know what I mean. That’s a place where I don’t even expect a conversation, forget bias!

Argument 5: Conversations are good when they don’t end in a fight.

Ha…! I presume you’ve heard of something called passive-aggression? A beautiful thing that! No fights, no verbal arguments, but makes a person feel shittier than losing a football World Cup final on a coin toss! But the point being this – have a conversation with a passive-aggressive person, and you won’t need to fight for the conversation to suck!

I could highlight as many more arguments as the number of tenses I’ve used in this post. But I would end up refuting every one of them citing some technicality, experience, or plain facts! Does this mean that there is no definition of a good conversation in the romantic sense of the term? Of course, Google, Grammarly, and Apple have come miles ahead in defining proper language, but they are an equal number of miles away from defining what a ‘good’ conversation is.

The analyst in me wonders – what if we get our hands on a lot of conversations and have a team of thousand people tag them as good v/s bad conversations, and add another team to dig up relevant meta-data around those conversations? Then we could hire a team of crack data scientists to create a deep neural net model that can predict a good conversation. Do you know what’s the issue with that? A neural net is equally hard to decipher, so we wouldn’t actually know why it classifies a conversation as good or bad. So then we’d have to hire a bunch of ace mathematicians headed by a Nobel laureate, to breakdown the neural net and create dumbed-down rules that define a good conversation. Easy!

Discounting data privacy regulations, this is almost as difficult as answering the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything!

But then the writer-romantic in me wakes up and decides to write a blog post on this topic. I’ll give it a smooth setup to put the audience at ease. Then I’ll subtly introduce the concept of conversations and how important they are. Then I’ll sprinkle a few examples of a perfect world with perfect conversations, and when the reader has had enough, I’ll bring the dream crashing down and showcase the ugly side of conversations. Post that it is just about arranging these arguments on paper, and eventually capturing that analytical thought, however ridiculous it may seem! But how will I end it?So, I stopped writing when I reached this part and decided to make myself a cup of Masala Chai – every Indian’s go-to drink for solving a dilemma. Well, it worked for our Prime Minister, so why can’t I give it a try! The tea did not help much, but the three-minute mundane task of boiling water and brewing the tea gave me a revelation – Humans don’t need perfect tea! It is just the thought of having tea and executing on it that makes it worth the while.

Similarly, the concept of conversation itself is enough for us and is, quite frankly, a necessity. But what makes it good, is just closure.

Any conversation that has been suitably ended can never leave a sour taste in the mouth. And when I say ended, I MEAN ended! That is when you don’t hold back a few thoughts for later, or pull back your punches just to be nice, or tell a white lie only to make it worse later. Think about it for a minute, and then read on.

Interesting thought, right? I think so too! You may need another day though, to digest this and make peace with the fact. But now that I’ve said my piece, I’d say that this was one of the best conversations I’ve ever had!

And you may not agree, even after a day, and that’s fine! That’s when you come back to this post, speak your mind in the comments, and get some closure.

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