5 Tips for Conversations That Change Us
Updated: Jun 18, 2018
Since I was a little girl I have loved good, heart-felt, intimate conversations. I enjoy thinking up good soul-searching questions and talking about topics that are personal and relational.
Yet, after all these years of practice in listening and talking, a good conversation remains a challenge because it needs constant work and practice. Each conversation is unique and requires emotional intelligence, presence, self-awareness, language, confidence, cultural knowledge, improvisation skills, empathy, inter-relational skills and so much more! I have at least one conversation every day that leaves me thinking, “Wow, that did not go the way it was supposed to,” whether it is with a co-worker, a student, a family member, neighbor or a passer-by on the street.
Whether you would call yourself a “relationalist” or “conversationalist” on any personality type scale, we cannot get away from conversations. Not only does the quality of our relationships depend on our conversation skills, but so does also our quality of life.
Susan Scott, the author of Fierce Conversations, writes:
“Our lives succeed or fail one conversation at a time. …. The conversation is the relationship. If the conversation stops, all of the possibilities for the relationship become smaller and all of the possibilities for the individuals in the relationship become smaller…”
“If we compromise at work or at home; if we lower the standards about how often we talk, what we talk about, and, most important, what degree of authenticity we bring to our conversations--it's a slow and deadly slide."
Since conversations are so important for our daily functioning and satisfaction in life, I want to offer a few tips that have helped me to gain more out of conversations.
1. Be Present
Sounds simple but is not. First off, put down the phone, book or whatever else it is that you are giving your partial attention to. You can’t listen well, read the other person’s non-verbal cues, let alone make them feel that they are worth your time and attention if you are visibly browsing through your phone while having a conversation. Can you feel when you are on a phone with someone, whether they are simultaneously also glancing through their email?
Check yourself where your thoughts are while she or he is talking. In my experience, the external distractions are the easiest to turn off. Internal distractions are at first glance invisible to the other, but also become soon evident.
Some of the internal distractions are: allowing your mind to wonder to past or future events and plans, eagerly thinking about the next thing you are going to say, insecurity or being self-absorbed, losing interest in the conversation, or getting swallowed up by one of your internal triggers and losing focus of the person in front of you.
You show affection for the other person by being genuinely interested to learn more about them and by being curious and caring about how they are truly doing. When you notice that you are not fully present to the other, simply return without judgment.
2. Take the Risk of Vulnerability
Relationships tend to only go as deep as you feel comfortable taking them. We typically can set the tone for this by taking the plunge first ourselves and most people will follow. In the end, humans yearn for deep connection.
A simple exercise is to not just answer with a simple, “Not too bad” or “I am well” when you are asked how you are doing. Instead, share something that is real about your life. It is a small change, but can start a new friendship at a workplace or create a meaningful, although short, check-in point with your family member. (At first, you might need to follow up with a “what made it a good day?” or “tell me more about that”.)
It can be hard to share our true passions, talk about our secret dreams and things that we are thankful for, but to talk about our struggles, fears, and weaknesses is definitely hard. However the gift of knowing we are not alone in our pain and brokenness is one the most healing gifts that we can give to another human being.
Maybe – suffering doesn’t have to torch life purpose, but can ultimately achieve the true purpose of life – intimacy. Where suffering is shared, communion is tasted. And maybe the fellowship of the broken – koinonia in the brokenness – begins to mitigate that suffering.
– Ann Voskamp, The Broken Way
3. Practice Asking Questions
We all love to talk about ourselves, and questions give us permission to do that. When you get to know the person, you learn what they enjoy talking about. This will guide what kinds of questions gets them going.
If you desire closen