One Good Phrase: Leigh Kramer (Conversation is like…)

Leigh Kramer sees the world in a lovely way. I am always reading her posts and saying, “Oh, I never thought of it like that” and I’m so grateful for her voice. Also, we are TV watching kindreds, especially when it comes to shows I’m a little embarrassed to say I love. Welcome Hopefulleigh! So happy to have you here.


People described me as shy when I was younger but I disagreed. I wasn’t scared to talk with folks; I was selectively friendly. I’m the first to admit I’d observe before engaging, discern and then discuss. Most people enjoy a good listener, anyhow.

While I can’t remember what inspired my mom to tell me this, I heard the phrase throughout my childhood. “Conversation is like throwing a ball back and forth.”

I’d picture myself tossing the ball (question) and someone catching it (answer). If I ever felt uncertain, say, in a large group or around grown ups, I’d remember my mom’s advice and ask a question.

(Is it a coincidence I became a huge White Sox fan? Probably. My mom didn’t pay any attention to baseball before my obsession began.)

The years passed and I developed into a talker but still a selective one. Perhaps it’s my nature as a listener or my skills as a social worker but I’ve always been at home with myself, content to listen to a big group and contribute when I have something worth saying. I shine when one-on-one and shudder when forced to contend with small talk. With my closest friends, it can be hard to shut me up.

These days Mom’s advice still comes in handy but I see it in an altogether different light. The metaphorical ball tossed back and forth now illumines the rhythms of healthy friendship.

A couple of months ago, I met a new friend for coffee and we immediately clicked. There was a good mixture of sharing and questions and listening. The conversation went on all sorts of tangents, which is the best kind of conversation to my way of thinking. I heard her and she heard me. We threw the ball back and forth well.

On the other hand, I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve left a one-sided conversation with an acquaintance and thought 1) they wanted me to be their non-paid therapist and 2) they didn’t ask me one question- I never got to catch the ball. It’s no wonder I leave those people feeling depleted.

Then there are those falling between those extremes. Each conversation we grow to understand each other a little better. We’re figuring out what kinds of friends we’ll be.  Sometimes I ask more questions, sometimes they ask me more questions. They’re not “call you in the middle of the night” friends quite yet but maybe they could be. Or maybe they’ll be my “social” friends with whom I’ll go to shows or try out a new restaurant.

If I’ve learned anything the past few years is that we need a good mix of friends. No one person can meet all of our needs, nor can we meet theirs. We need friends who go deep, who listen well, who ask us the questions that make us squirm. We need friends we see maybe once a month for coffee or lunch, just to catch up. We need the friends who are drawn together over a common interest, whether a baseball team, a love of books, or the same taste in music. We need friends with different backgrounds and opinions and we need friends who offer solidarity. Each type of friendship has its own rhythm, it’s own way of tossing the ball back and forth.

This month marks 3 years of living in Nashville. It is equal parts home and new place. I am still figuring out community. I’m trying to balance new friends here with the ones back home. I’m trying to figure out who really means it when people say, “we should get together” and don’t follow through. I’m reaching out and initiating because that’s what I do. I am a connector and I chase after potential good friends. But I really long for people who will initiate with me.

I didn’t know making friends would be this hard. And I’m a people person!

Building new relationships takes time, effort, and energy. For an introvert, even an extroverted introvert (INFJ, y’all), it means constantly putting myself out there but then balancing that with nights in to recharge. I didn’t have to be aware of my own needs when I still lived in Chicagoland. I had a firm foundation of relationships stretching back to the year I was born.

Here, it’s pretty much all new. It has been a saving grace to live near my best friend who has known me more than half of my life. Otherwise, I’ve added to my community one person at a time. I now know a lot of people in Nashville but I feel known by a precious few.

It’s unfair to compare my community here with my community back home.  While it is discouraging to have found more one-sided friendships than anything else, I still believe I’ll find true community here. I am lucky to have found a kindred spirit and a circle of friends I see regularly. Where my community is lacking, I choose to persevere.

My mom’s advice reminds me that conversation and friendship require an active participant. I’m doing my part.

I keep tossing the ball. I have hope. You never know when someone will toss it back.


Leigh Kramer is on a quest; she’s living life on purpose. Her to-do list might look something like this: leave life in the Midwest for Nashville, Tennessee with only fried pickles for comfort, quit steady job as a social worker to chase that dream of writing at last, suck the marrow out of life’s in-between places and revel in the now at every turn. She is a contributor at . Leigh shares this journey through words of transparency, heart, and just a dash of pluck at  and on Twitter at .

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  • Cara

    I love what you’ve said here. Making and maintaining friendships is worth it, but complex! Also, isn’t it weird being an extroverted introvert? 🙂 I’m an INFP and I feel like I am two different people, my small group self and my larger group self.

    • Micha Boyett

      It’s been a long time since I took the Meyers-Briggs. I’m an ENFP but I’ve felt myself moving more and more toward the “I” the older I get. So I totally get the extroverted introvert thing, Cara.

    • Yes to having a small group self and larger group self! I always chuckle when people describe me as quiet because I’m NOT and that tells me they haven’t taken the time to get to know me.

  • BrennaDA

    Oh, how I love this! When I worked in retail, I got my “big” promotion after I attended a meeting with half a dozen other hopefuls. Everyone just kept talking and talking and I sat quietly the first half of the meeting. During the break my boss asked me if everything was okay as I wasn’t talking much at all. I told him, “When I have something to say, I’ll say it.” I contributed a little at the end. I was promoted the following day. Our silence can be just as valuable as words offered.

    That said, Leigh, I hope we get a chance to talk over coffee sometime soon!

    And Micha? The guest posts you have had for this series have been so life giving!

    • Micha Boyett

      Brenna, thanks for saying that. I have LOVED this series and how “One Good Phrase” can come into our lives in so many different ways.

      I’m totally the same way in the training/classroom setting. I cannot listen to a lecture and immediately have something to say (or even ask) about it. I have to think for a couple of days. I always wished that discussion could be held two days following the class so I could actually contribute. : )

      Also, I really love this idea, Leigh. It’s so simple and something so many people just don’t get when it comes to relating to other people. I’m going to start using the ball analogy with my boys as they learn how to be friends.

      • If classroom discussion could be held 2 days after class, I would dominate the discussion! 😉

        I’m so glad to hear you’re going to use the ball analogy with your boys! My mom will get a kick out of this. Thank you for your kind words in the introduction. I’m so grateful for you.

    • Have you read Quiet yet, Brenna? I don’t know if you’re an introvert but your work story really highlights the benefits of introversion that Quiet so masterfully laid out. And yes to coffee someday soon!

  • You’ve pretty much summed up how I’ve felt after a year and a half in Columbus. It’s so hard to start over with friendships in a new place. I’ve had so many of those one-sided conversations where no one asks me any questions. The ball analogy is so simple and helpful for demonstrating a good back and forth relationship. Although I would change the ball to a hockey puck.

    • Ha! I will allow the hockey puck switch out.

      I’ve always been someone who’s welcomed new people into my circle of friends so it has been strange to be on the other side of that and realize how many people do not hold the same philosophy. The one-sided conversation thing has happened my whole life but until Nashville, I had such a strong base of friends that those conversations were outliers. I don’t know what to do about it, other than keep pressing on.

  • Mark Allman

    I work hard on listening Leigh. I try to understand what a person is saying and what they might be hoping to say. I try to take the ball sometimes and look it over and bounce it before I throw it back. Silence can be good at times; but both parties have to be ok with that… to move into silence and out of it.

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  • Also an extroverted introvert! (ENFJ, but right on that introverted/extroverted line…does that make me an introverted extrovert instead?) And I’m headed to grad school to get my MSW in the fall. If I were headed to Nashville (I’m not, sadly), I would love to grab coffee with you. Regardless, Leigh, thanks for your words :).

  • I nodded along to almost every sentence in here. (Maybe because I am INFJ too?) Thanks for the reminder that we can have friends who listen more and friends who talk more and as long as we find balance, all is well.