10 steps to having meaningful conversations
When was the last time you became joyfully lost in a conversation? You know the type, where your whole being becomes deeply fed as the words of another and yours became intricately wrapped around each other?
These magical conversations feed our hunger for connection, a need we all share and desire to fill. Yet, more and more, these conversations are a less frequent part of our life. More and more we're talking to others whilst doing something else; e-mails, social media, eating, walking, housework, watching TV and the list goes on. We've all done it, right? We're busy, we don't have the time and it's hard to 'schedule' into our day. Our society is moving us in the direction of more of our day being spent interacting with technology than nurturing the physical presence of another.
All this has lead to us losing our focus, our undivided attention and care for being truly at one with another whilst we talk to them. We have lost the art of deep soul filling conversation. We are denying younger generations of role models for soul satisfying conversations and by doing so risk it becoming a dying art as well.
As teacher Paul Barnwell says, "conversational competence might be the single most important skill we have failed to teach. Kids spend hours each day engaging in ideas and each other through screens but rarely do they have an opportunity to hone their interpersonal communication skills. And research shows American teenagers send on average a staggering 3,339 text messages a month which is over 100 a day.
We risk living a life without the depth of connection that we deeply crave. We risk living a life without the skills to interact meaningfully with our fellow life travellers.
So how do we, step by step, in our own way make a positive shift towards reviving this dying art?
As Celeste Headlee, writer and radio host says in her TEDx Talk, there are many simple approaches we can deploy in our conversations to truly make them mean something;
• Don't multi-task - this is the biggest culprit for quality conversations, don't be half in the conversation and half somewhere else. If it matters to you, be present, totally in the conversation and devote yourself to it.
• Don't pontificate - don't see a conversation as your chance to rabbit on and make a point. As Bill Nye said, "everybody you meet knows something you don't", so grasp this opportunity to seek it out.
• Ask open ended questions - if you really want to know what people think, give them the space to share their interesting jewels by using questions which start with who, what, where, when and why.
• Go with the flow - don't treat a conversation like a military attack having the next question up your sleeve ready to deploy. Let thoughts come in and go out, allowing the conversation to move organically.
• If you don't know, say you don't - be honest, do the other person justice by being real. Air on the side of caution and compassion.
• Don't equate your experience with theirs - as tempting as it is, and as genuine your intent, all experiences are different so let their experience be theirs and allow them to have the space to share it.
• Try not to repeat yourself - sometimes it can be tempting to make a point time and again but, when we are truly present in a conversation, once is all you need and can be so much more powerful than multiple times.
• Stay out of the weeds - try not to get lost in the details in the knowledge that people are more interested in getting to know you and what you have in common with them
• Listen - it seems so obvious but we often get so distracted during a conversation with ideas and thoughts bother related and unrelated to the conversation. As Stephen Covey beautifully said "most of us don't listen with the intent to understand but with the intent to reply". Switch yours round and notice the difference.
• Be brief - a conversation requires a balance between talking and listening so don't take all the air time, say what needs to be said without boring the other person and keeping the conversation alive.
If you had to take away one thing from all this to remember, it's truly be interested in the conversation. Whether it's with a waiter in a cafe or your best friend, you never know what connection you might form when you allow yourself to be open to the possibility that is contained within each and every conversation. And collectively, by doing so, you will be helping save this life changing yet dying art of meaningful conversations.