How do you have a good conversation?
That was the topic for this month and as I mulled it over, I wondered about the conversations I have each day and I realised something. Most of my conversations were very superficial. I was coasting through life barely skimming the surface of my relationships because I was either busy, scrolling on my phone, taking care of a child, scrolling on my phone, eating, scrolling on my phone, working, scrolling on my phone...well, you get the picture.
I was adept at the quick – ‘Hey, how are you doing? I’m good, thanks.’ – and some small talk about work or the pandemic, and a final ‘Lovely talking to you. We should really catch up sometime. See you later. Bye’. It was always quick. Always brief. Just a wave of the hand. And I was happy with that; satisfied that I had touched base with someone.
Until last year when my world went spinning and life didn’t make sense anymore. That was when I realised how desperately I needed to talk to someone – to have a real conversation that didn’t just skim over the details of my life, but actually laid it all bare. Where I could be honest and speak candidly. Where I could actually connect with another human being at a deeper level.
Over the last year, I have learnt the value of a good conversation and am thankful for friends who modelled it for me. Let me share three important ways to help you transform the way you converse. Believe me, it is the most liberating experience.
Intentionality: A good conversation doesn't just happen. It isn't a happy accident. It takes effort and more importantly, time. You have to learn to slow down and make time for those conversations whether it is with your 8-year-old daughter or your childhood friend. Every day you'll have opportunities for good conversations. How much time you give to it, will determine how good it is going to be.
These conversations can't be rushed. They require you to be intentional and be aware. This was a huge learning for me. Most of the time, I found it difficult to look up from my phone and truly engage with the person talking to me.
I learnt that intentionality looks like me putting my phone down and looking the person in the eye while talking to them. It looks like me being 100% present in the moment and not mentally planning my next meal. It looks like me taking the time to pick up the phone and call my friend and have a real conversation that doesn't end in 5 minutes. It looks like me planning a coffee date with a friend and having a real heart to heart. It looks like me saying, 'Hey, come on in. Let me put the kettle on.' and then clearing out my calendar for the next hour or more. Intentionality is Step 1.
Vulnerability: So, Step 1 is done. You've made the time. You've slowed down. You're being intentional. Now we come to Step 2, which is the foundation of any good conversation - vulnerability.
In order to have an impactful discussion, you have to be willing to be absolutely real and honest. You cannot be superficial. This means sharing openly about your struggles, your pain, your fears, your life. It means airing your dirty laundry. There's no point in living a superficial life. We can either be real or we’ll end up being fake. There is no middle ground.
I found this to be the hardest part because vulnerability forced me to be humble. It stretched me. I couldn’t pretend that I was doing OK or that my life was perfect. I had to be truthful and in speaking the truth, I found myself being vulnerable. Vulnerability is neither comfortable nor easy. But there’s beauty in sharing one’s brokenness because it brings healing and peace. Of course, you have to be wise about who you're talking to, but the secret to a good conversation is vulnerability. Your vulnerability will invite others to share openly as well.
Listening effectively: And finally, Step 3. While we can talk and open up and speak frankly, it's all only half the work unless we truly listen to the person we're speaking with. A conversation is not a monologue; it's two-way communication.
Sometimes I feel that listening is truly a lost art in this day and age. Our minds are so distracted that it's a challenge to focus and listen. One way to listen well is to ask questions so that you're following along and haven't zoned out halfway through. This also indicates that you're genuinely interested in hearing what the other person is saying and helps them be more honest and open up. The deep joy that comes in knowing that you are heard is something that cannot be compared.
Another way to listen well is to stop interrupting. We are always quick to get our two cents in, to share our perspective, to give advice. And most of the time we are formulating our response mentally even while the other person is speaking. Listening well implies considering the other person's words more important than our response. So we listen without interrupting - either with our words or in our minds.
Learning to have good conversations takes practice and importantly, like-minded people. Obviously, you can't have one with someone who's halfway out the door, literally or mentally! I hope this year you're able to develop this lost art. Believe me, you won't regret it!
‘Deep conversations with the right people are priceless' - found online ironically!