Do Your Conversations Ever Dead End?
Do you remember the last time you tried to strike up a deep meaningful conversation with someone only to come to a dead end when you did not seem to have much to say to one another? It might have happened with a colleague at work or a new person you met in a social gathering. If you are like most people, it could just as easily happen at dinnertime with your spouse or child. This feeling is often frustrating and it can be difficult to figure out what you can do to develop and deepen the conversation. What can you do to jump start a deep and meaningful conversation to engage someone and build an emotional connection?
What Not to Do
Most people attempt to start deep and meaningful conversations with questions such as “Where are you from?”, “What do you do?” or “What did you do today?” The response you will hear is usually factual: “I live in the Upper West Side”, “I’m an accountant” or “I took a test.” While this is a great way to begin a conversation, most people fall into a trap of continuing the conversation by following up with more fact-based questions: “Do you know my cousin from the Upper West Side?”, “Where do you work as an accountant?, “What kind of test was it?” It might seem like you are taking an interest in the other person but if you continue along a fact-finding path, it is likely to leave one or both of you bored with the conversation.
STEP #1 – Share a FACT + FEELING
The key to having deep meaningful conversations is to discuss FACT+FEELING. If your role in the conversation is to ask questions and listen to your partner try this:
After you ask a fact-based question, follow up with a question about a feeling that is related to the fact: “What made you decide to live in the Upper West Side?”, “What do you like about accounting?”, or “How did you feel when you were taking the test?” Allow time for people to think about and articulate their feelings.
What if you are sharing your own FACT+FEELING? Think of a fact about yourself that you would like to share, and follow-up with a feeling about it. Your feeling should be comfortable for you to share. Do not share a feeling that is too vulnerable, unless you have developed a relationship of trust with a person who knows you. You might want to share a fact about an interest of yours and why you enjoy it. Sharing your passion can be a great way to develop a deep and meaningful conversation.
STEP #2 – Validate Feelings and Avoid Judgment
When people express their feelings and opinions, avoid judging what they say or comparing it to how you would think or feel. Instead, listen carefully and summarize for them what you heard them say in your own words. Empathize by sharing how you could understand why they would feel this way. Put yourself in their shoes and empathize with their feelings, even if you do not agree with them. While this approach may be challenging at times, it is worth the effort. People find it very validating when you understand and empathize with their feelings. This transforms your conversations from small talk to deep and meaningful conversation and helps foster an emotional connection.
Let’s try this with one of the conversation starters above:
Dave: “What did you do today?”
Sandra: “I took a test.”
Dave “How did you feel when you were taking the test?”
Sandra: “Well, I was kind of nervous because there were parts of it that I really didn’t know. I tried to skip those sections and go back to them at the end. I ended up finishing the test, but I’m not sure how I did.”
Dave: “It sounds it was a hard test. It’s rough when you feel like you don’t know some of the questions on a test. Seems like you really tried your best.”
Sandra: “I think so. I gave it my best shot. Hopefully I’ll do well. Thanks!”
STEP #3 – Focus on the Feelings
A deep conversation focuses on listening to your partner’s feelings and validating her feelings. For example, focusing on your partner’s feelings behind taking the test moves your conversation away from the superficial factual give and take. Your develop a deep conversation about your partner’s feelings.
When you focus on feelings, your goal is to make your partner feel comfortable expressing her feelings. Your partner will want to share feelings with you if she senses that you understand her.
When she hears you paraphrase her feelings, it makes her feel safe sharing more about herself with you. Why? Hearing you tell her back what you heard her say demonstrates to her that you get her! You prove to her that you really understand her feelings.
The more that you and your partner feel comfortable sharing feelings, the deeper your conversations will be.
Research on Emotional Validation and Connection
Deep conversations develop when your partner feels that you are able to validate her emotions. This creates an emotional connection to you and makes her feel safe talking about personal topics.
Empirical research conducted by Dr. John M. Gottman demonstrates how an emotional connection and a sense of trust are developed when we listen to and empathize with someone’s feelings. In his book on how to foster close connections for couples, The Science of Trust: Emotional Attunement for Couples, and his guide for parents The Heart of Parenting: Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, Gottman talks about the importance of being attuned to another person in a relationship, whether it be your date, spouse, child or friend. ATTUNE is Gottman’s acronym summarizing six key steps to effectively respond to another’s feelings: Awareness, Tolerance, Turning toward, Understanding, Non-defensive listening and Empathy.
You need to be aware of what your partner is feeling and avoid judging your partner’s feeling. Even if you do not share their feeling, you can still understand why your partner feels this way. You can express empathy to your partner: “I understand why you feel this way” – even if you do not share they same feeling. Emotionally validating your partner increases your emotional connection. This leads you to develop a deep conversation with your partner.
Each Conversation is an Opportunity
Each conversation with another person presents an opportunity for a deep conversation. The goal is for others to share their feelings with us. The more that we demonstrate to them that we can understand their feelings and empathize with them, the more they will be encouraged to continue sharing their feelings with us. You’ll be amazed by how easily your conversations will flow and how you will generate and grow your affection for one another.
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