David Strittmatter

How to have more meaningful conversations

The biggest communication problem is that we listen to reply, not to understand

Dear friend,

During my weekly reflection, I was wondering at what moments I felt most happy. Concluding that there is nothing more joyful than having a meaningful conversation with a person which is valuable to me, I urgently wanted to analyze what I love so much about these dialogs and how I can have more of them.

Here my summarized considerations:

What’s great about deep conversations

  • Thrilling and exciting talks about things that matter most to us
  • Share deepest beliefs and motivations
  • Identify problems and potential solutions for our greatest challenges
  • Open up freely and support each other

How to have more meaningful conversations

  • First and foremost: be genuinely interested
  • Be curious about the underlying motivation and their opinions
  • Lead the conversation and ask engaging questions
  • Balance the conversation by sharing about yourself
  • Dare to share small vulnerabilities

What’s great about deep conversations

What I really like about conversations that go far beyond small-talk is the feeling of opening up and sharing our true opinions. I enjoy asking people what they love doing and particularly why they love doing it. When we talk about what is most important to us and why, and there is someone who is a great listener, energy and passion flow through our body. We become thrilled and excited proportionally to the degree of how much we are passionate about the topic and how well the other person listens to us. Triggering these emotions in others is pure pleasure for me.

Additionally, deep conversations are the basis for identifying personal issues that someone has to deal with. Having meaningful dialogs with others enables us to instill trust in them. People open up more freely and regularly, allowing us to support each other, either mentally or practically by providing solutions for their greatest challenges.

Most of the time, we are too shy or don’t want to bother anyone with our troubles although the majority of people love solving problems and helping others out. Actually, most often it is a “win-win” situation, but those opportunities cannot be seized as we tend to not open up. Having deep conversations regularly will solve this issue easily.

How can we have more meaningful conversations?

First and foremost: be genuinely interested

Imagine there is someone asking you why you are working in position xyz or studying/majoring in abc. There are two scenarios: in the first one, the person is someone conducting a survey for her or his boss and quite unmotivated to do her or his job. In the second scenario, a person two years younger than you asks you the same question, but this person tells you before doing so that s/he always wanted to be in your position (studying abc/working as xyz) and wants to know your honest opinion. Whom do you tell more passionately and honestly about your experiences?

If we want others to talk about things that mean a lot to them, we need to show them clearly honest curiosity. When people open up, they make themselves vulnerable. Showing genuine interest is a clear sign to them that their risk of opening up will be worthwhile.

Moreover, be a great listener. Instead of just listening to the words someone is saying, understand them. If you notice that you’re distracted, silence whatever distractions are grabbing your attention, such as a cellphone, music, or noise. Give the person your full attention while they are speaking and do not interrupt them. Wait your turn to speak.

Be curious about the underlying motivation and their opinions

Meaningful conversations aren’t about the WHAT but the WHY. The fact that someone is working as a business consultant might be very uninteresting to you, however, the actual reason why someone is pursuing such a career might be very exciting. For instance, the person might have worked for a company that went out of business and she wants to prevent the loss of jobs by being a great advisor to distressed firms. The story behind this motivation might be very interesting.

A good way to make the transition from typical, shallow small-talk conversations is to just follow up with “why”:

A: “Why do you like pizza so much?”

B: “Because my mum is Italian”

A: “Oh wow, that’s interesting. What do you like more, Italy or country x and why?”

People love to share their opinion on things they are excited about. “Why do you like xyz?”, “What do you think about this or that? Why?”, “What do you do in your free time? … Swimming? Why?”

But don’t forget that you have to be honestly interested! Don’t force the conversation. Try to hit on something the other person is passionate about that you’re also interested in.

Lead the conversation and ask engaging questions

Just asking why isn’t enough. If you want to have a deep conversation, it’s important to keep it going for at least some time. Before people open up (varying from person to person), there are hurdles to pass. In order to accelerate the process, get the other person to talk about himself/herself first. And how? Make it a point to ask at least one question before moving on to the next topic. Before you share, let them share; and before you start talking, let them finish their talk.

Later, once trust is instilled it’s your turn. If she or he’s interested in what you have to offer, you can naturally transition into a pitch that interests her or him and doesn’t feel forced. A lot of times, a person will self-identify a need right after you talk about what you do. After getting to know each other more, you’ll know more about the similarities and topics you both are excited about.

Balance the conversation by sharing about yourself

Whenever you ask personal questions, share about yourself, too. I use to share a little piece of information about me related to the question I’m about to ask. Share your opinions, too. Be honest and try to conform to the other person’s opinion. If you disagree, tell them, but explain your view and don’t argue or force a discussion.

However, don’t cut someone short in order to share. Sometimes it’s common to let someone talk for a long time. Aim to share roughly as much during the course of the conversation. This rule of thumb will become more and more natural the more you get to know each other.

For instance, If someone briefly mentions what they think of his or her job, you can later briefly mention what you think of your job. If the person is interested in this topic, s/he will ask you based on what you said.

The same goes for other topics: Childhood, school, friends, hobbies, etc.

Dare to share small vulnerabilities

It’s vital to allow yourself to be vulnerable in relationships. If you want others to open up, you need to be willing to do it as well. Share things that are personal to you. This will instill trust in others and encourage them to open up to you, too.

For instance, when you ask a person about their time in high school and the person responds quite shallow, you can tell them a story in which you felt uncomfortable, anxious, or sad. Most of the time people can relate to those experiences and add something to your input.

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