“Hey, how are you?”
“Doing well, thanks.”
“Good to hear.”
And cue the curtain call. That’s it, that’s how we talk to each other. While the pressures of getting to class or work on time makes this sort of interaction necessary, let’s pause to think of what this does to our overall engagement with one another. Allow me to preface by saying I am an avid small talker and do see the value of passing conversation. It lightens the mood and provides much needed person-to-person acknowledgement. To surpass the surface, however, we need to recognize the times where we can switch the banter with deep dialogue.
Fig. 1 Everyone loves an iceberg metaphor
The usual conversation involves skimming through topics I like to call “skimterests,” ideas that only scratch the surface of getting to know someone. The current climate, who wore what and when, or perhaps some car trouble you had on the way to a meeting, are all so very skimteresting. We sometimes avoid heavier topics in an effort to save the other person from discomfort. It has become a common courtesy to not engage in sensitive issues but as emerging adults, let’s realize that we should not always mask our discussions. What we lose by doing this are genuine moments with those around us. It’s okay to be vulnerable. Don’t just break the ice, melt it (and get to the bottom of the iceberg).
Finding common ground is a valuable place to start when having a conversation, but it should not be the sole subject. It is easy to talk about similarities because you feel secure and understood, but complexity begins when you shift your focus on what makes the other person unique. That is when you delve into the various life events and perspectives that have shaped them into the person they are.
Digging deeper requires you to invest two things into the other person:
- Time spent asking open-ended questions
- Verbal and non-verbal marks of interest
Ask questions that don’t end with just a yes or no. Go for the “Why’s” and “How’s” when asking why a certain life path was chosen or how they feel about their relationships. Showing interest is key to conversation continuity and can be done with simple words of affirmation, attentive eye contact, and nods of recognition. People can gauge one another when speaking, intermittently checking if what they’re saying is actually being heard. Listen, process, and have specific follow-ups. The goal now is to widen your knowledge of the other person without feeling pressured to respond with a similar story in efforts to relate. Everyone has something intriguing about them and each conversation is a scavenger hunt to figure it out!
- Describe three things you could add to your life that would make you happier. What about three things you could do without?
- How would you describe your personality? How is that different than how your family, partner, or friends would describe you?
- If you had to make up a life motto right now, what would it be and why?
Don’t worry about the back-and-forth. There is no required word count or rule that says two people must talk equally to have an effective conversation. You don’t need to always say something to fill in the gaps. Appreciate silence as a significant facet of conversation. It allows people to ponder their responses, especially those who need more time to process thoughts before speaking comfortably.
Paraphrasing is powerful. Respond with what you have gathered from the other person. This not only shows that you listened but that you care about having an accurate idea of their point. Having positive remarks after someone shares something personal will also help create a safe space for dialogue. Validation is the pillow of conversation, it make things comfortable.
Water it with time. Really getting to know someone is an ongoing process. The best relationships form from a progression of conversations, keeping in touch with others, and remembering what they have to say. If you have time in your day, think about how you can make the “How are you?” turn into something a lot more meaningful.
Images: Sunshine and Marian Bagamaspad