I hate the phrase “How are you?" It’s overused to the point where it’s lost its meaning. And to make it worse the response is often equally insincere. So many times I hear myself replying ‘I’m good thanks, and you?’ without even contemplating whether I’m good or not. There’s no meaning in this interaction. At best it's a little dance we do that really says ‘I acknowledge your arrival’.
Today I’m suggesting an alternative - genuine conversation. I’m talking about those ‘deep and meaningful’ chats where you discuss things that really matter. We should be trying to have those conversations more often instead of sticking to the superficial topics such as weather and plans for the weekend. Why? Superficial small talk does not build relationships. You can make small talk with someone every day for years and never feel connected to them. Emotionally, small talk leaves us unsatisfied and unhappy. Why then, is it so common?
The short answer is social conformity. We tend to choose topics of conversation that are non-confrontational and easy for everyone to participate in. This is fine for certain situations. I don’t suggest walking up to a stranger in the park searching for emotional connection. However many people lack the skills (our perhaps the courage?) to step up into meaningful conversation when the opportunity arises. I found a quote on ted.com which describes this beautifully:
‘We stagger through our romantic, professional and social worlds with the goal merely of not crashing, never considering that we might soar.’
Too often, there are people in our lives that we see frequently, maybe every day at work, with whom the conversation has never progressed beyond the superficial. You might chat about how the kids are going, or talk about vacation plans - that’s completely normal. I’m not saying every person running around your office needs to be your best friend. However, I would like for you to open your mind to the possibility that these interactions could be an opportunity for so much more.
But, how do you start meaningful conversation with someone you hardly know? It doesn’t have to be an awkward encounter with deep questions and complicated topics. The solution is to ‘Ask for stories, not answers’. (Thanks again ted.com - I could not have created a more concise description). Many small talk questions ask merely for answers:
‘How was your day/weekend/week/year?’
‘What do you do for work?’
‘How long have you lived in the area?’
“What’s up?” (Another one of my least favourite sentences!)
Often these can be answered with just one word = No connection.
The solution: ask open questions that invite the person to tell you a story.
“What’s the most interesting thing that happened at work today?”
“What was the best part about your weekend?”
“What are you looking forward to this week?”
“Describe the proudest moment of your life?”
“If you could change anything about yourself, what would it be and why?”
These types of questions allow the person to share information. It gives them a chance to express emotions and thoughts that may never have been brought up otherwise. Allowing two people, for a brief moment, to make a connection.
Life without connection is meaningless. These little everyday interactions can make a difference to your overall happiness and well-being. So although I understand the fear of being different or asking the wrong question, it may be a risk worth taking. (And remember, doing things that scare you creates growth).
Be daring. Give your relationships the chance to soar.