One of the most important components of a relationship-building encounter is conversation, based on genuine dialogue. As Martin Buber wrote in his 1930 essay, Dialogue, what often passes for conversation is nothing more than “monologue disguised as dialogue.”

Conversation, and the difference between monologue and dialogue, has recently been a frequent topic of discussion with my clients and workshop participants. This opportunity to spend so much time conversing about conversation has clarified things for me, and here’s what I think:

In genuine dialogue, neither person is hiding an inner monologue. You are not talking to yourself in the background. You are talking with each other, and only with each other.

It’s not that you can’t be thinking while you are talking. Of course you are. But are your thoughts directed into the conversation, or are they part of a competing, plotting, inner monologue? Does the other person have a second voice in his head, hidden from you yet obscuring the true meaning of what you hear him say?

This is the intersection between being fully present and conversation. If you are talking to yourself, you can’t be in true dialogue with another person.


  • Mark V. McDonnell
    May 15, 2008 - 10:31 am

    Stellar, and a perfect distillation of a sometime crippling stumbling block of mine. Working on it!

    Plus, very interesting to ponder the consequences of your interlocutor possibly having the same thing going on…

  • Steve Yastrow
    May 15, 2008 - 11:13 am

    Mark – Thanks for joining us. Question: does the simple awareness of the issue make it easier to get over the “crippling stumbling block?”


  • Michael Lee Stallard
    May 15, 2008 - 11:33 am


    Another great post! I struggle with this too at times. My temperament test results once said that I had a “rich inner thought life.” Fortunately, now that I’m in my late 40’s, I’ve been able to for the most part tame the “monkey mind,” as Eastern Spiritual thinkers have described it.

  • Michael Martine
    May 15, 2008 - 11:40 am

    Funny, I was thinking this is “Zen and the art of Conversation” and then I read Michelle’s comment. What this is, is just being present and engaged, but it’s harder than it sounds.

    • Steve Yastrow
      May 15, 2008 - 11:51 am

      Maybe Michael has described Zen and the Art of Conversation!

      Personally, I find that the “monkey mind” is noisiest for me when I’m thinking on my own, and it is easier for me to be present and engaged when I’m in a dialogue with someone. While thinking about this post, I asked a psychologist if most people are like that, and she said that many people actually do have more trouble with a strong inner monologue while talking with others.

      In any event, whether alone or engaged with others, being fully present is the key to quieting the chatter in our heads.


  • Mark V. McDonnell
    May 15, 2008 - 11:47 am

    Steve, awareness, plus intent, plus intent to continuously renew said intent 😉 are all needed to overcome the handicap.

    Now I think of it, I’ve always had the awareness. The further elements are of newer vintage. So the short answer to your question is “No.”


  • Michael Martine
    May 15, 2008 - 18:42 pm

    Having a busted radio in my car has shown me how monkey my mind can really get during my commute. I’ve had plenty of practice at both deliberate thinking and quieting the mind. Notice I didn’t say I’m any good at it. Just that I get practice. 😉

    I used to be really bad at not listening to people and being distracted until my wife blew up at me one day. I hadn’t realized how that makes other people feel. Now whenever I’m talking to someone, if I catch myself wanting to fidget or feel distracted, I can usually re-engage with the other person.

    In customer relationships, the best thing you can do is truly listen. It also happens to be good business. I’ve seen money left on the table and deals go sour because salespeople just didn’t listen and really engage with the client. Had they done so, they could’ve come up with a much better offering (that just happened to be more expensive).

  • nafTymnIntenny
    Aug 02, 2008 - 20:13 pm


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