This time of year is full of opportunities for all kinds conversations, from gathering around Thanksgiving tables with family and friends to holiday parties to work and community events. Each gathering brings a new chance for making small talk and seeing distant relatives or peers you haven’t seen in a real long time. Add in the challenges of the very different perspectives and often polarized beliefs that represent the current climate in our world… unless you are just a born social butterfly, it can feel tough. We feel it too and here are our top 5 tips for making conversations more meaningful:
Start open and get personal
Need some conversation starters? Asking right away about something that matters to the person your talking to is the way in. Try: “What are you looking forward to this winter (or: at work, with your kids etc.)?” If you know something specific is coming up like a trip, birthday, celebration etc. ask about that. We’re big fans of staying away from the “what do you do?” kinds of lines and love this recent advice from NPR Fresh Air Host Terry Gross who says to start with “So, tell me about yourself”. On our team, we often overhear Jack asking people “So, what’s your dream right now?” and it works remarkably well. We also like “So tell me what’s good.”
Share appreciative gossip
Spread the positive vibes by sharing something good about someone you have in common. It could be a personal or shared accomplishment of some kind or just a fun fact or story. “Did you hear that cousin Amy’s writing was just featured in this really amazing blog?” or “Did you hear that Jim just got invited to speak at his high school?”
When it gets uncomfy… respond don’t react
When something contentious comes up and you don’t want to get pulled in… think about ways of responding respectfully like saying “That’s very complex” or “I hear what you’re saying, I don’t see it the same way, but I hear you”, or “This is one of those issues we’d need hours to unpack”, or “You and I disagree on this one, but I’m really interested in hearing more about (your work, your kids, that football team you love etc.) You want to come across as thoughtful and responsive but not willing to engage in a tense conversation at the moment.
Stay curious and listen for clues
If there ever was a winning combo in conversations, it’s the listen and ask questions combo. To make any convo more connecting, listen closely to what the other person is saying and find those moments to ask questions with a tone of interest and curiosity. When you’re at your holiday party and your co-worker shares a story about his once in a lifetime experience to cook with a famous chef you get to ask all the questions “What was the thing that impressed you the most?” “Where did he find inspiration for the menu?” “What was the best learning for you?” The simple practice of taking a moment to imagine what could be possible about what they’re saying opens the door to good questions.
Jump in and share a story
If you hear someone talk about an experience of theirs and you realize you have a story that they could relate to… share it! As you’re sharing it make sure you highlight the parts that connect to the person you’re talking with. If you’re on social media with someone you know you’re going to see or meet with, scan through their recent posts to see if there is anything you have personal stories to share.