I had lunch recently with two older Japanese guys that I see weekly at the gym. Both are retired and in their 70s. On occasion we plan a lunch or a night out. On the surface having retired it may seem they do not have too much to do, but they have pretty full lives with not only 2-4 times a week gym visits, but also golf, travel, family and other outings. No matter what I am inspired by their commitment to health and overall well-being during the latter half of their lives. I get the sense that they look forward to our outings because it is just something completely different than what they are accustomed to. Shaking up their routine is what I call it and something I like to do myself.
Of course when we go out our conversations are always in Japanese. For me it is good as I get a chance to speak the language for an extended period of time, something I have not had the chance to do lately given my job, my son’s fluency in English and no longer taking private Japanese lessons. This time around I was a bit concerned that maybe my speaking and listening ability have gotten worse, but I soon found out it is pretty much the same. Thankfully I am still able to hold a conversation no problem.
There is one thing I realized, although I knew it already, and so I put it to use in this context – that is shaping the moment, or in this case the conversation. You see most people do not really pay attention to shaping a conversation and just go with the flow of what is being said. So given my limited Japanese ability to speak on difficult topics, I would throw out topics that I know I can hold a conversation, family, trips, food, exercise, corona or on rare on occasion Trump. When they start getting into language levels that are beyond me I just time it and nod my head as if I understand. While I do comprehend some of it is usually less than 50%. If it starts to go way off on a vocabulary-like challenging tangent, I wait for silence to ensue and then lob out another topic that is easier, and off we go again.
This strategy works well and makes for a pleasant afternoon. Nobody gets stressed out due to lack of understanding and no odd moments between one another.
I do want to stress this is not about controlling the conversation, it is just shaping the moment and letting go.