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Making Conversations Matter

A break-down of what make conversations matter - opening opportunities to further our personal and professional development

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Photo Credit: rawpixel
Photo Credit: rawpixel

During a down-the-rabbit-hole binge of YouTube videos I came across a TedEx talk with a girl named Kalina Silverman who talked about her term “Big Talk”. She goes into explaining how her movement into creating meaningful conversations with every day people that we meet will create a more connected community.

Her TedEx talk can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WDbxqM4Oy1Y&t=170s 
and her Make Big Talk website: https://www.makebigtalk.com/

Watching this made me think of the conversations that I have on the daily with co-workers, family and friends. Do I just create small talk just to pass the time and hope for them to go away? Do I really take the time to get to know the people that I am around consistently in my life? Do I make others around me feel like they are seen and that they matter? 

I consider myself a pretty open book; open to share anything as appropriately as possible. Often I find myself sitting next to a random person and having a deep conversation with them. Not sure what it is that lets a person open up to me like that, but sometimes it has opened up opportunities like being introduced to someone else that has helped further my career or being invited to awesome parties. Having appropriate conversations that matter has the potential to open the opportunities that we are looking for. They are the keys to what I personally experienced and have learned from great speakers and inspiring leaders. 

Here is a basic breakdown of conversation attributes, which I have found lead to these types of meaningful conversations: Building Trust, Listening, and Vulnerability.

Building Trust

As I have mentioned, the ability to be an open book does not mean to have a conversation with someone that I have not met and tell them my whole life story in one sitting up front. All the nitty-gritty vulnerable details of my life are not to be shared with openly right away. As Dr. Brenee Brown has mentioned in her talks and books like “Daring Greatly”; sharing vulnerable information with someone that we have not mutually invested our “emotional coins” with is more attention seeking. It is a way of say “look at me” or “this is how messed up I am so give me attention”. There needs to be a sense of trust between two people before the vulnerable stuff can come out. And that building up trust is the foundation of making conversations matter.

Building trust can be similar to social partner dancing. I learned Salsa and Bachata dancing back in 2011 and made my way onto a dance team where we performed for live audiences. Social dancing is part of the salsa dance culture where people show up at a club and asking someone to dance is much more welcomed than at other types of “booty grinding” music clubs. Sometimes the person you ask to dance with, you may not know. So in order to perform the bigger dance moves, you have to start out slow with the smaller dance moves and work your way up. Once the comfort and trust between my partner and I are mutual – when we can feel each other’s flow and physical mechanics, I will find myself having them do triple spins and dipping them almost touching the floor. 

In conversations, it is the smaller gestures and small but meaningful topics that can build up to the bigger talk. Small gestures may include a smile every once in a while. It could be that eye contact when they are speaking. It is the leaning in when they may be saying something important. It could be asking clarifying questions to ensure them that you are listening to them. As far as small topics, (from my experience) the words how and why always make things more meaningful. If I am talking to someone new at the bar, I could ask what they are drinking, with a follow up of if that is their go-to drink, and followed up with why is it their favorite drink. They may just say a sub-surface answer of “I don’t know, just because” or they may tell you a story behind it. Either way, here is your time to say a little bit about yourself. 

When I partner dance, I keep a rhythmic pattern of certain moves. For me, it helps with having nice flow. Sometimes I will experiment if I am feeling courageous enough. When it comes to conversations, I keep the guideline pattern of ask-and-share. Eventually it turns into a more meaningful conversation. And as I said, the pattern is a guideline - not a rule

Listen

Personally, I find listening the most important part of a conversation. People want to be heard and understood. And to be able to have someone know that they are being heard and understood is to truly listen. There are all types of listening techniques that you can have the pleasure of asking my friend google about. But the key point I want to make is about the difference between sympathetic listening and empathetic listening

Sympathetic listening more about feeling sorry for someone’s ills or challenges. It is when your dog, cat, animal dies and you tell your friend about it and their response is, “I am so sorry for your loss.” They heard what you said, they see that you are hurt, but they may not necessarily understand your current emotions. 

Empathetic listening takes it a step further. It goes beyond just feeling sorry but more of an understanding of the person’s emotions. It calls for follow up questions like, “how long did you have your pet for?” or as simple as, “what was you pet’s name?” By asking questions, you can get to understand the emotion and be relatable. 

It is all about asking the right questions, that lets the other person know you are truly listening to them and making the effort to try and understand them. We can never know exactly how someone is feeling. But for someone who may be in emotional pain, having someone just to talk to - to perhaps get their emotions released through words, whether they make sense or not, can be helpful and relieving.

Different types of listening is not better than the other. They are simply different methods for certain situations. 

Vulnerability

There is a myth that floats around that perceives vulnerability as a sign of weakness. Perhaps in a tactical-military sense, being vulnerable is not what you want. But when is comes to a social human interaction, showing vulnerability can be seen as a strength.

The word vulnerable is derived from the latin word “vulnus” - wound. Being vulnerable gives the opportunity for a wound to be inflicted. But what if I said showing vulnerability between human to human is a side of strength because you do not care of the consequences that will happen of being vulnerable?

How many times have you been inspired by someone’s speech? How many times have you seen amazed by someone’s performance - on a live stage or a movie? Every time I present in front of people, I am nervous. I am nervous about how I sound. I am nervous about what people will think. I am nervous about if people will understand my words or if sound like an idiot. Putting myself out there in front of people is vulnerability. Almost every body says to me, “Wow, you seem like a really good speaker and seem comfortable. I wish I can have that sort of confidence.” And what I am saying is not to impress you but to impress upon you. Every time I hear that type of positive feedback, I am always surprised. Sometimes (in reality most of the time) we are the most critical about ourselves. But trust me, we all have the ability to inspire those around us. Many times is just takes time, practice, and the ability to not listen to that negative self-talk.

Putting ourselves out there is an open invitation to be judged, be frowned upon, or be made fun of. These are the consequences of being vulnerable. But it is having the mental fortitude of not expecting anything less or anything more that turns vulnerability into a sign of courage. You are simply just sharing to be connected. 

Even the first step to open up conversation with someone you do not know is a sign of vulnerability. And as I have mentioned previously, we have to be strategic in connecting with vulnerability. Being vulnerable with detailed information right off the bat with someone you just met or someone that you know but do not have that mutual investment of emotional coins is a sure way of making things awkward and steering conversations to a dead end. Start small and build from there.

Final Thoughts

Not all my conversations are big talk conversations. Sometimes I truly just want to talk about the weather or talk about how I ate Taco Bell last night and feel like a piece of crap. Have meaningful conversations when you truly are feeling your best to have those types of conversations. Maybe you are a social introvert like me that just needs his private time watching senseless YouTube videos or playing video games to re-energize and so you do not feel like talking even when the opportunity presents itself. That is perfectly fine. Just ask yourself, do you have the mental and emotional fortitude to have a meaningful conversation or are you avoiding conversations because of fear?

If it is fear, than I would suggest to step into the powerful bad-ass that you are and step out from your comfort level and just go for it. Vulnerability will build confidence.

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