Dan Erwin: Conversational leadership

Double-Checking My Conversational Skills

Last Sunday, I headed to one of my restaurant haunts for a late lunch. Although I have a number of favorite restaurants, I usually head to NoLo’s for their weekend brunch, especially for the avocado toast and salad, a favorite of mine. Although I very often go with friends to favorite restaurants, my Sunday brunch is inevitably solo. As a consequence, I always sit at the large bar and order my meal. The place, as usual, was mobbed with late 20’s and 30s, along with a few “olders.” I inevitably take my male purse, stuffed with a couple articles or a small book, just in case. I took the only chair with two young black women on my right and two young black men my left, all obviously college grads. The neighborhood is young professionals and Sunday is a packed noisy crowd. The kind of happy noise that lets me know I’m still a member of the human race, even as a member of the so-called “elderly.”


I pulled a couple study articles out, looking at them briefly, turned to my left and started talking, a conversation that lasted more than two hours—and was great fun. But what made it especially insightful, creating the rationale for this post, is the three of us had several conversations, then together analyzed the relationships.

I began by commenting that the avocado toast that the fellow to my immediate left had just been served was one of my favorites. I usually have two eggs, sunny side, but he had scrambled eggs on top, providing another opportunity for small talk. And then, we were off. We talked about favorite restaurants, where we all lived and whether we ate here regularly. I asked about their work, learning they were sales people, both college grads and obviously successful professionals. After introducing myself as “Dan,” the fellow to my left introduced himself, providing me with his name—“Isaac”—to which I responded that Isaac didn’t fit any African Americans I knew. I was correct: he was Ethiopian. I couldn’t remember who colonized Ethiopia, to which he responded “no one.” And then I remembered, “Haile Selassie and all that stuff,” I commented. Yes, but he wanted to know how I knew that and I responded with my “don’t know shrug.” Both he and his friend talked so rapidly and so humorously that with my hearing deficit, I had to ask them to repeat, explain, rephrase, etc. They were quite OK with that.

Shortly, we had a ten-minute conversation on Detroit, my home in the 1940s. Detroit is inevitably a conversation for a lot of people. .

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