In business and in pleasure, conversations are our roadmaps through the day. They are how we share information, feelings, and ideas, and the nature of our conversations dictates the all-important relationships between ourselves and those around us.
It’s no wonder that conversing can be pretty energy-consuming. And we can all be guilty of avoiding eye contact with others for fear of being drawn into a draining conversation from which we think we will take no value. Yet a conversation is never about one person: you get out of it what you put in, and a more important question to ask yourself before getting stuck in is not so much ‘what can I get from this conversation’ as ‘what can I bring?’
Making that conversation worthwhile for all involved begins with committing to it wholeheartedly. Putting your visual attention elsewhere – let’s face it, we’re talking about phones and computer screens here – literally diminishes your brain’s capacity to deal with the words that you hear. And that’s before we even get into the importance of demonstrating your respect for the person you’re talking with (or at least their right to be listened to!). Keep eye contact, repeat difficult concepts back to make sure you understand properly, and you will find the other person remains more engaged with you and your ideas, too.
After all, there is an important distinction between just hearing, and actually listening to someone. It’s not the easiest thing in the world to mute your inner voice while conversing, especially if it’s a heated chat and you have mental rebuttals just queuing up to be voiced. Deliberately process both the logic and the emotion behind what the other person is saying, though, and you should find a greater level of empathy arises between the two of you, improving the chances of a mutually agreeable outcome.
Watch out not just for what you say, but what you don’t say, to engender empathy. Giving unsolicited advice, for example, is likely to cause the other person to shut down on you – whether you’re offering it for their benefit or for your own! A better approach if you intuit that they could do with guidance or fresh ideas is to ask questions and get the situation out in the air, helping them to see the lay of the land more clearly and opening up opportunities to work towards successful resolutions.
Stories are another way to provide guidance or wisdom without coming across like a know-it-all. Folk remember stories far better than they can recall statistics – it’s just the way our brains are wired – and meaningful narrative will engage each of you on both an intellectual and an emotional level. A good story tends to revolve around conflict, and a good connection between the characters involved and the themes of the anecdote. Just remember one thing: always tell the short version.
Social topics can also help to open things up and create a bond between talkers. Too much work talk gets everyone down, while sharing or discovering something unexpected about each other’s outside interests and opinions is an excellent way to broaden a relationship and increase the options for future encounters and solutions. Be wary how much you talk about yourself, but if there’s a topic that you’re passionate about then that passion should come across even if you stray away from your own experiences and ask questions about the other person’s feelings on the subject.
Now you’ve figured out how to have deeper, more impactful conversations, just be wary of overdoing it. Not everyone is up for a deep conversation every time or all the time. People are busy both in their outward tasks and in their inner minds, and there’s nothing like a carefully judged silence to let people relax and process the events of the day. In particular, it’s been shown that an unfavourable balance between lots of small talk and less regular, deeper conversations can impact upon an individual’s reported levels of happiness.
This new infographic lays out the top principles for excellent conversations in a straightforward way, and it’s worth checking in on from time to time to tune-up your chit-chat game – making the experience of spending time with others more fulfilling for yourself and those around you.
John is a digital nomad specialising in leadership, digital media and personal growth topics, his passions include world cinema and biscuits. A native Englishman, he is always on the move, but can most commonly be spotted in the UK, Norway, and the Balkans.