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4 Ways to Have More Meaningful Conversations

Want to lift your spirits during these stressful times? Developing a mid-afternoon wine habit between Zoom meetings at work or consuming roughly the equivalent of your body weight in chocolate probably is not the best answer.

Instead, engage in more meaningful conversations with others whenever possible. After all, science has shown that quality conversations increase your happiness and well-being.

As reported in this New York Times story, Psychologist Matthias Mehl, Ph.D. from the University of Arizona conducted a study which found that deeper conversations promoted more happiness than small talk. Mainly because people are driven by finding meaning and want to connect with others. “By engaging in meaningful conversations, we manage to impose meaning on an otherwise pretty chaotic world,” Dr. Mehl said in that article. “And interpersonally, as you find this meaning, you bond with your interactive partner, and we know that interpersonal connection and integration is a core fundamental foundation of happiness.”

I came to that realization way before COVID-19 became a thing. Previously, I was a social overachiever, planning theme parties and attending numerous events related to my work in public relations. But over time, that just got frustrating, sort of like when you crave a healthy meal and are trying to subsist on packets of stale airplane snacks instead. Today I gravitate towards quality conversations over bits of small talk any day.

With the current focus on social distancing, people have literally been keeping each other an arm’s length away. And that presumes you have the wingspan of a professional basketball player; it has been rare for me to get within eight or ten feet of others unless our face masks are firmly on.

That makes the times you do get to connect with people who matter the most even more special, whether its via phone, video app or in person. At the risk of sounding like a holiday season public service announcement, make those moments count with quality conversations.

Ready to get started? Here are 4 ways to have more meaningful conversations:

When my husband and I used to travel frequently for our respective jobs, we scheduled a standing date night each Friday to reconnect without distractions. Now that we are together almost every night, one of the silver linings of the pandemic, it is still important to block out a specific time on the weekends to go deeper in our discussions.

One of my coping strategies this year has been scheduling “walk and talk” sessions with friends while getting outside for cardio walks. If it is someone inside of my “safety bubble,” this is done in person. But I’ve had wonderful discussion with friends around the world via phone while I’m hoofing it around a local park and they are going about their daily life. Scheduling that time ensures that I get to nurture the relationships that lift me up as well.

Pick someone who you’d enjoy interacting with on a deeper level than commenting on their latest status update on social. Then book an audio or video call to focus on truly connecting.

Bored with small talk, Georgie Nightingall created a business called Trigger Conversations in the United Kingdom that organizes events and individual trainings to help people have more regular meaningful and stimulating conversations. In her TEDx Talk, she recommends talking to strangers since “conversations are opportunities to transform, reshape and engage in new trains of thoughts.”

Nightingall advises being the one to make an opening statement to someone new through finding connection points about your mutual environment, commenting on something they are wearing and more — and then sharing your authentic self to promote a fulfilling exchange. Ideally, this is done in person. But I’ve attending many online video meetings that separate participants into smaller chat rooms which creates a great opportunity to meet new people.

Asking yes or no questions or something awkward like “are you still dating that guy” or “did you ever find a job” can quickly stall a conversation, if not kill it altogether. Open-ended questions that focus more on “how, what or why” promote a more productive exchange.

Nightingall calls great questions “the tools to burn the fires of curiosity” — consider what you are curious about in the person before you. Their opinion on a topic of mutual interest? What excites them in this very moment or makes them tick overall? Chances are good you’ll have a more interesting discussion asking someone what they wanted to be as a kid when they grew up, or what life changes they would make upon winning the lottery rather than asking someone what they do for a living.

Think about conversations where you can barely wait to share your two cents and because of that, don’t actually hear what the other person is saying. That behavior isn’t doing anyone a favor. Step away from your smart devices, laptop, television or anything else that could be diverting your attention to actually listen to that individual.

Connecting with that individual on the aforementioned devices? Then shut notifications, alerts and other programs off so you can concentrate better on absorbing their thoughts. What you learn from them may delight, inspire, inflame or educate you in some way. Really hearing their message lets you respond in a more respectful, connected manner that can turn a good conversation into a great friendship.

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