We all want to build better connections with others. Most of us don’t want to admit that we’re not quite sure how to do that…
Whether you’re forming friendships, building communities, or looking to address a nation, learning how to have a meaningful conversation allows us to build better connections. It is an essential part of having a high-quality life and yet, it feels harder to do, more than ever. The rise in social media, dating apps, and hustle culture has desensitized us when it comes to the ability to connect with one another. So let’s work on making conversations enjoyable again!
Many of us are accustomed to transactional conversations and relationships. You show me how you can be valuable to me, I’ll show you my cards and if you don’t demonstrate any value, you’re disposable. No one likes those kinds of relationships.
Now with social distancing, we are reminded of how much we deeply crave closeness. We want depth and authenticity in our interactions. And when a conversation or connection is … well, bad, we can’t help but feel intimately dissatisfied (yeah that emptiness you feel after a bad interaction, that’s emotional blue balls).
We want to feel seen, heard, and understood. We want to feel safe and emotionally held (heck, some of us want to be physically held too! Friendly PSA: Please practice safe and consensual holdings). We desperately want to be accepted, appreciated, even celebrated for who we are and what we’ve been able to do!!!
The challenge is we’ve gone so long without it, many of us forgot how to connect with each other! Whether it’s making a new friend or reconnecting with your family, friends, and partner, whoever! TBH, this shit is TOUGH!
Why it’s important to connect to other human beings
Humans are social creatures. We survive in pacts and build living communities to support one another. Now with the changes in technology, e.g. social media and dating apps, the way we socialize has changed (hey Boomers, STOP BLAMING THE YOUNG PEOPLE. We also provided plenty of solutions to problems you created! Let’s all work together now people!). Everyone has the ability to connect to hundreds, potentially millions of people, all around the world, and yet we are lonelier than ever. Loneliness is becoming epidemic (not quite the same as a pandemic but still as tragic).
Let’s be honest (spoiler, that’s one of the steps). The likes, comments, and shares are addicting! We all appreciate the attention no matter how much we don’t like to admit it. That said, gaining strangers’ approval only gives us a false sense of validation and an illusion of comradery. Then again… in our most vulnerable times, we’ll take whatever we can get…
The problem is we can’t get close enough to be vulnerable with one another. This fear of intimacy perpetuates a vicious cycle of disappointment and frustration that furthers us in our social isolation.
We want so badly to be seen but we’re even more afraid of putting ourselves out there in fear of rejection, shame, and judgment.
What we want is to build meaningful relationships. Ones where you learn about each other and understand who the person is (I’m going to help you with this). Deep down inside, we want to care about each other’s well being, success, hopes, and dreams. We want to have more interactions where we walk away feeling more fulfilled than before (quick disclaimer, not every interaction results in this but following these tips will improve your chances).
It’s in serendipitous moments, like when you discover you both love the same things or had a unique shared experience, that unifies us as human beings. It gives a rare chance to share a piece of ourselves and allow the other person to leave an impression on us. Maybe it leads to a friendship, a second date, or they keep us in mind when something funny happens. Whatever it is, at that moment, it makes us feel high on life! (Contrary to popular belief, it’s a great thing to feel feelings, especially when you previously thought there was only a black hole where your heart used to be… sounds dramatic but I’m sure there’s someone who has felt that too).
The only way to fix that is to rethink how we connect with others. We need to rebuild our relationships and develop genuine connections.
By having more meaningful conversations, we can develop deeper, more satisfying relationships with those we care about.
What we’re used to…
If you’ve been at a networking event, awkward first dates, or heck, your friend’s birthday party, this may be triggering for you…
Remember talking to someone new and you’re not sure… what exactly to talk about? As a default, you go down your checklist of questions. Then, practice social etiquette and hope they don’t see the desperation (and/or boredom) in your eyes.
You ask them how they’re doing (without really caring), ask what they do (to see how they could benefit you) or if it’s really bad, talk about the weather (because you’re not sure what other shared experience you might have…)? I’m getting bored just thinking about this conversation…
Making emotional tweaks, reframing your mental attitude, and switching up your approach can make a world of difference! Here are 7 tips and best practices on how you can improve your conversations (which really is the foundation of how you can connect with others).
#1. Be mindful
Whenever you’re adjusting (or adopting) to new behaviors, increasing your self-awareness helps you to identify what the issue is, potential blind spots, and pathways to success. Relearning how to build a genuine relationship requires the same level of attention and work. Think of it as if you’re learning how to stretch a muscle you may not have used in a while. Take it easy, don’t be too hard on yourself, but keep working at it.
During interactions, be mindful of your responses and instincts. Are you making eye contact? What does your body language look like and what is it saying? Are you constantly interrupting them (because no one likes that), speaking over them, or worst, …mansplaining something (let’s just not)?
Whether it’s a new person or someone you’d like to get to know better, be present in the moment and be mindful of what you’re doing. Observe how you’re interacting with them, notice how are you behaving, and how they responding in return. This will demystify why the relationship is not as meaningful as you would have liked and what to do about it!
#2. Practice actively listening
One thing that is commonly overlooked is the act of listening. Many of us listen to respond, not understand. This can cause disconnections, misunderstandings, and friction in relationships. By practicing active (or conscious) listening, you can ensure messages are not being mixed and all parties are on the same page.
Resources: Check out TedTalks by experts: Julian Treasure – 5 ways to listen better and William Ury, one of the world’s best-known and most influential experts on negotiation (also, cofounder of Harvard’s Program on Negotiation and the coauthor of Getting to Yes) on The power of listening. You can read books, listen to podcasts, but the best way to improve is to practice active listening.
One way I’ve sharpened my listening skills is reflecting on what was said and repeating it back, to ensure I understood everything the way they intended. It took a lot of practice and patience at first but over time, it got a bit easier. Now, I’m better at breaking down complex ideas, reduce misunderstandings, and de-escalating heated conversations.
Practice this in your next conversation: Once your conversation partner finishes their point, take a minute to reflect on what was said. It’s ok if there’s a bit of silence, even if it’s awkward (sometimes it will be). Once you processed what they said, summarize what you understood and ask for clarification if you missed anything. If they correct you, NBD! At least now you both can walk away with the same understanding of the conversation. Trust me, they will appreciate that you made the effort to listen.
Doing this shows you’re thoughtful, kind, and considerate. It makes the other person feel respected, seen, and (sometimes, the most undervalued part), appreciated.
#3. Ask meaningful questions
Oftentimes when connecting with someone, especially new people, we go through a script of questions. Whether it’s a date, networking event, or coffee meeting, we run down our FAQs, hoping that by the end, it would us closer together. Too often we ask overly general questions, get frustrated, and/or feel as though we wasted our time (because it kinda was).
The lack of connection is due to our inability to be vulnerable. Gentle reminder: The types of questions we ask affects the type of connections we foster. Engagement only furthers the bond if we can go beyond the surface and open up to one another.
Don’t be afraid to be curious. Ask about topics you actually care about! Learn what sets their soul on fire. Ask them what motivates them and what keeps them up at night. I can write an entire article about asking meaningful questions (and that’s what I’ll do!). It doesn’t have to be complicated or complex. A few simple modifications to your FAQs can make a huge difference in getting to know someone in a meaningful way.
Here are a few questions to ask (more to come!):
- Instead of “how are you?”, ask “how are you doing, really”? – If they give a simple one-word answer, ask a follow-up. Show that you really do care about how they are in that moment. Hold the space for them for however they’re doing (more on this later). Also, share how you’re really doing too!
- “What are you passionate about?” – It’s so much easier to learn about someone and connect with them if they’re talking about something they love. Maybe they can teach you more about it (yay for learning something new)? It gives you something to bond over and it can make for a fascinating conversation.
- Instead of asking “what do you do?”, try “what are you working on?” – As a person who has been in between jobs before and who’s worked in a role I wasn’t particularly excited about, answering “what do you do” was uncomfortable. It also comes off as if you’re mining for information on their positioning/status and how they can help you rather than getting to know who they are as a person. Asking what they’re working on opens a realm of possibility as they can talk about their work, a passion project, or something they’re really excited about (notice a theme here?).
Ask followup questions. If it wasn’t clear by now, it’s much easier to connect over something someone is excited or passionate about. It allows you to learn about them as an individual (rather than a position from a company) and be seen for who they are. That’s the whole point of connecting with someone – recognizing and acknowledging a person for who they are as their own person!
#4. Share about yourself
Relationships are built when people learn about each other, exchange thoughts, and develop trust. Personal stories and anecdotes are great as it gives insight into who a person is, what they care about, and what their experiences are. To build a strong foundation for a relationship (personally, professionally, or intimately), both parties need to feel safe.
A big part of that requires being vulnerable, open, and honest with one another. Being vulnerable allows for a deeper connection and the best way to get someone to open up, is for you to share something first. Sharing something about yourself that is slightly personal, maybe a little embarrassing, or private subconsciously triggers the law of reciprocity. (To be clear, it doesn’t mean you’re entitled to anything nor should you force the other person to share something private about themselves before they’re ready. Don’t so will have damaging consequences).
Here are a few things I shared about yourself that has helped me (and may help you too):
- Something I’m working on (you can read about that here as well)
- Something I’m struggling with (like the time I wrote about imposter syndrome)
- Something I’m insecure about or slightly embarrassed by (in moderation) – sharing flaws is not always a bad thing! You just need to know how and when, which can take a bit of practice. It helps to show you’re human because everyone makes mistakes. Just don’t dump all of your problems on your conversation partner, which can make things very uncomfortable.
- Or a lesson I recently learned
Don’t feel the need to overshare, overcompensate, or overextend yourself. Building a strong relationship takes time. Don’t be too hard on yourself.
#5. Be honest
When it comes to connecting with others, honesty, alongside trust, can truly make or break a relationship. It’s as simple as it sounds. If you’re not being honest with the person you’re trying to connect with, they won’t be able to be honest with you.
By building a safe space for both of you to be vulnerable and open with one another, you will allow the relationship to grow and develop.
Being honest does not mean removing all filters and saying whatever comes to mind. Being mindful of your judgment and criticism is important. That said, it’s critical to practice empathy and consideration when sharing your honest thoughts, feelings, and at times, feedback/advice (only offer when asked!)
#6. Setting expectations
Honesty also allows you to set the proper expectation in your relationships (personally, professionally, or intimately). As much as we love our friends, family members, and/or partners, we have our own priorities, traumas, and trigger points. And they have theirs.
This is why getting to know the person and creating a safe space (allowing for honesty and vulnerability) are so important in building a strong connection. It acts as a solid foundation, enabling us to face our difficulties head-on and overcome obstacles.
Without communicating your expectations, needs, and boundaries, you may experience relationship burn out – when you’re too emotionally exhausted in the relationship. This can lead to a lack of empathy/consideration, apathy, and destructive behaviors.
Setting the right expectations allows you to better manage, reduce, and in the future, avoid unfavorable interactions and outcomes.
- Going to obligations you don’t want to (I would rather do anything else)
- Spending time with people you don’t like (Ain’t nobody got time for that!)
- Being triggered by past experiences or trauma (ughhhh not this again)
- Overextending yourself and leaving to your own burnout (Tired AF)
- A person who complains too much/unnecessary drama (which is very different from venting and holding space for someone)
- Need I go on?
The important thing is to communicate with your conversation partner with respect, kindness, and compassion. If they push back on your boundaries, try to understand why it’s so important to them. Determine whether this is something you should set a hard limit on or is it an area you’re willing to compromise on? It’s important both sides experience a win-win and collaborate in finding a solution, or else it can breed resentment, aversions, and apathy down the road.
#7. Show love and compassion
It sounds silly but sometimes, we forget to show others the love and compassion we expect in return. We all deserve to feel cared for, connected, and loved. Many of us are under-appreciated in our everyday lives and constantly being neglected has a toll on our emotional and psychological well-being.
Similarly, we all have our traumas and adverse experiences. Most of us are not equipped to “fix” anyone, nor should we. Our personal development journeys (PDJ) are all different and it all requires different types of healing and solutions. Although I believe we are responsible for our own healing, it can really make a difference if we can hold space for one another (if we, ourselves, are at a place to do so), and show others the love, respect, and compassion we all could use.
We all want to feel connected. We want to feel loved and appreciated. We want to connect with others and want them to connect with us right back. In this article, I shared with you a few ways to help connect with others. An even bigger way we can further our connections is to connect with ourselves – to show ourselves the same love, respect, and kindness we show others. But that’s another article.
What are some of your favorite ways to connect with others?
Share them with us in the comment section below and #StriveWithMe! Happy connecting ya’ll!
Inspired by annoying small-talk, inauthentic relationships, and the frustration of dating
Melissa Thi Le is the Founder of Strive With Me, a business owner, and community leader. She loves learning about personal development, business, and social impact as she builds a life dedicated to combating social issues affecting millions of people. She created Strive With Me to build a community to support each other on their journey towards achieving their goals.