How to have more meaningful conversations
How to have more meaningful conversations
There’s no doubt the growth of technology has changed the way we interact and communicate with one another. Especially now, during a global pandemic, we’ve been forced to embrace new modes of communication. The pandemic has also brought to light the importance of maintaining close connections with one another.
But have we forgotten how to have meaningful conversations, stuck in a cycle of superficial how-are-yous?
Relationship psychologist Esther Perel works with couples all the time and says the problem with how we have conversations these days is that we’ve gotten into the habit of talking AT people, rather than TO.
“That mentality of pitching oneself is showing up in smaller circles,” says Perel.
“Rather than deep exchanges that are rooted in curiosity, or even superficial conversations floated by fun, our conversations become performances,” she says. “How many opportunities do we miss because we didn’t ask someone about themselves?”
The problem, explains Perel, lies in the tension between speaking and listening. Since we were children, we’ve been told to “use your words,” and communicate correctly. Yet, listening isn’t treated the same way. “We make a point of encouraging one another to be assertive – speak up! Communicate! … but we don’t quite prioritize listening in the same way,” says Perel.
Philosopher Alain de Botton says that the art of conversation isn’t always an easy thing and that we often get sucked into the myth that we must be naturally good at it.
“Truly good conversations come along very rarely; largely because our societies fall for the Romantic myth that knowing how to talk to other people is something we are born knowing how to do, rather than an art dependent on a little planning and a few skills,” he says.
“Finding oneself in a good conversation can feel as haphazard and random as stumbling on a beautiful square in a foreign city at night – and realising one won’t reliably know how to get back there in daytime.”
Shyness and a fear of vulnerability are often to blame for poor conversations, says Botton.
“We get scared of opening our souls because we falsely exaggerate the difference between ourselves and others. We display only our strengths, vaunt only our successes, lay out only our conventional proposals – and bore others as a result,” he explains. “It is almost impossible to be bored when a person tells you sincerely what they have failed at or who has humiliated them, what they long for and when they have been at their craziest.”
Conversations can also play a role in helping us shuffle through the thoughts circling in our brains.
“How helpful, therefore, to be able to embark on the job of thinking with someone who can hold us to the issues we need to refine, lend us courage to keep going with our hesitant opening thoughts and pollinate our analyses with their insights,” says Botton.
A blueprint for better conversations
What can we take away from Botton’s analysis of conversation? That we must lead our conversations with sincerity, vulnerability, curiosity and an embrace for thinking things through together.
This also means understanding the balance between speaking and listening.
“The art of conversation is about healthy amounts of both: thoughtful speaking and hardcore listening, asking questions and navigating commonalities and differences,” says Perel.
What this requires is a bit of shake up. Perel herself says she likes to host dinner parties and unify her guests with one question.
“Recently I asked, “what is a relationship question that you have at this moment?” Fifteen people around the table all said completely different things: about sex after having kids, aging, monogomy, and more,” she says.
To get you started, see Perel’s dinner party questions:
- What would you tell your 20 year old self?
- What is one of the lessons learned from a heartbreak?
- What is a conversation that you know that you need to have with yourself?
- When did you know that you were no longer a child?
- What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
- What would you say makes you not the easiest person to live with?
- What would you do if you had a different career?
- What is something that you wished you had known or been told as a child?