“What school are you from?” “Have you finished your exams?” “How have online lessons been?”
These are some of the typical questions we find ourselves answering and recycling when we meet new people, or acquaintances we have not seen in a while. Regardless of whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, this kind of small talk can seem rather shallow and rather brain-numbing at times.
Sometimes we just want to skip perfunctory exchanges to get to learn more about the other person. For instance, we wish to have meaningful conversations for interpersonal relations or to network with others.
Mastering meaningful conversations is tough, especially so when we live in a pandemic where online interactions are preferred. So how do we hold a meaningful, deep conversation with others?
This article will delve into three important sections; why is it hard to have meaningful conversations, why we should have meaningful conversations and 10 ways we can do so.
Why is it so hard to have meaningful conversations?
It can be hard to approach someone to start a conversation; we may be introverts, or face difficulty connecting with someone over online platforms. Even if we physically meet someone, it can be hard to navigate a meaningful conversation.
Some people may even find it hard to have a deep conversation with their friends. For instance, you may often discuss school or homework with certain friends, so bringing up a “deep” topic might seem out of place.
Since engaging in meaningful conversation seems so nerve-wracking, what is the point of such conversations? I completely understand the occasional (or frequent) urge to pull a Patrick and hide under a rock to shut out the world.
Nonetheless, deep and meaningful conversations do have their merits.
According to Dr Nicholas Epey, a professor of behavioral science at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, “connecting with others in meaningful ways tends to make people happier”. He conducted a series of experiments to see the effects of small talk vs deep conversations on people who were strangers to each other.
His results showed that people who discussed shallow topics (i.e. discussing the weather) and deep topics (i.e. describing the last time they cried in front of someone else) both tended to overestimate how awkward they thought the conversation would be.
Although this overestimation was greater for those who discussed deep topics, they tended to feel stronger connections to their conversation partners.
Humans are social creatures; we all crave interaction and intimacy to varying degrees. Forming strong connections with others allows us to healthily express our emotions while creating a support system for our well-being.
Having deep and meaningful conversations with others allows us to expose ourselves to new perspectives while voicing our own thoughts. Such experiences can be cathartic; in our moments of vulnerability, we tend to be more empathetic towards others and ourselves.
That being said, let us look at 10 methods we can use to engage in meaningful conversations.
Georgie Nightingall, founder of Trigger Conversations, an organisation that helps people engage in deep and meaningful conversations, says that being a lighthouse helps such conversations. Like a lighthouse, we should emit a light and warmth that draws others towards us.
She points out how infectious a smile can be, or how reassuring eye contact can be in a conversation. If you are awkward or standoffish in your regular interactions with others, chances are, they will be hesitant about connecting emotionally with you.
A simple way to “become a lighthouse” is to ask yourself: How do I want to feel? How do I want the other person to feel?
You likely want the person to feel comfortable and open to talking to you. To do so, maintain positive emotions and let your intentions be reflected in your body language. Maintain eye contact, nod at relevant moments, and smile at them before reaching out to them.
While your own body language is important, you also have to watch the facial expressions and body language of your conversation partner. If they avoid eye contact, or look uncomfortable while broaching certain topics, it is best to avoid them and change the subject.
Gauging the other’s body language to navigate deep topics allows for a more comfortable sharing.
We know small talk can be tiring; however, in certain circumstances, it may be inappropriate for your first question to someone to be “Tell me about your most recent existential crisis”.
Start the conversation with lighter but interesting questions such as “What are your favourite TV shows? What do you think your TV preferences say about you?” before delving into deeper topics.
Sometimes, it helps to establish intentions at the beginning of the conversation; be honest at the start and explain that you are looking to have a heart-to-heart meaningful conversation with that person because you appreciate their perspective, or wish to learn more about them.
Engaging in a deep conversation might be easier if the atmosphere is suitable. Find a quiet spot where you can hear the other person clearly, and maybe even talk over drinks to help the vibes.
Finding a scenic spot also helps create a more personal atmosphere to encourage deep conversations.
If you are concerned about potential awkward lapses in the conversation, you could meet the person for a low-intensity shared activity. That way, if the topic gets too heavy, or you or your conversation partner see the need to change the subject, you can quickly talk about the activity you are both doing.
For instance, you could bake with that person, or go for a chill board game or even go golfing.
Since the subject matter of the conversation could get rather personal at times, we must keep an open mind and be empathetic in such exchanges. After all, the person is opening up to us, and vice versa.
Mutual empathy is important to ensure that such conversations are well-received and will occur again in the future.
A possible way to express empathy is to convey your thanks and appreciation to the person for willingly sharing their personal thoughts with you in a post-conversation text.
It is important for all parties involved to have a somewhat equal sharing of their own thoughts and experiences. Continuously letting one person talk may prevent them from opening up again in the future as they could think that they have overshared.
On the other hand, going on and on about yourself would also come off as self-centered.
You have probably heard of the card game We’re Not Really Strangers, which presents interesting questions you can ask to start a meaningful conversation. Research beforehand to find some engaging questions you could ask.
You can also ask follow-up questions when your conversation partner shares their perspective; this signals your interest in what they are sharing, making them more inclined to continue talking. Here’re 100 questions that might be useful for this purpose!
Being a good listener does not mean merely nodding along to whatever someone is saying. You need to occasionally ask relevant follow-up questions, convey the right facial expressions and try to remember the gist of what has been shared.
This also means not interrupting the person while they are talking, and to listen with an open mind. When responding to what the other person has said, avoid comparing their experiences to your own as this seems to invalidate what they have gone through.
Signs of good listening boost the other person’s confidence and willingness to engage in meaningful conversations with you.
Engaging in a deep and meaningful conversation usually means a degree of vulnerability is involved. Since you expect your conversation partner to be truthful and vulnerable, it is best if you do the same too.
Share your own experiences (according to your comfort zones) and open up to others. Emotionally confiding in or sharing our dreams with others, can be beneficial for our own mental health.
If you have tried all these tips, but feel like certain people just do not wish to engage with you, don’t let that bug you. Some people have their own reasons for not wanting to open up, or some just don’t really vibe with you (and that is perfectly ok!).
In such situations, we can just reach out to others to form connections with.
Trying to engage in meaningful conversations may be difficult in the beginning, but with time and practice, they will be easier to handle.
We hope this article is useful in helping you navigate such conversations! In the meantime, do check out our other articles on why you vibe with certain people.