Small talk. Whether it’s a social gathering or a first date, most folks agree that talking about the weather, work or the latest sports scores can be tedious. This was one friend’s major beef about speed dating. “It’s the worst part of the date over and over again,” she said. On the flipside, most of us know a heart-to-heart with a close friend can be “good medicine” to a weary soul.
So it’s not really surprising that according to an article in Discover magazine, deep conversations make us happier:
For years, research has indicated that substantive, intimate conversations strengthen social bonds between people and, in turn, make them happier. Yet, other research has observed that less than half of conversations are meaningful exchanges.
As I’ve spoken with singles, they report these in-depth conversations can be hard to come by, especially if you live alone (not to mention adding the social restraints of a pandemic). If you don’t already have these strong bonds in place, it may feel awkward to open up to someone you just met.
A case for deep conversation
According to Amit Kumar, an assistant professor of marketing and psychology at The University of Texas at Austin, deep conversations are “those that include self-disclosure — revealing personally intimate information about what someone’s thinking, what they’re feeling, what they’re experiencing or what their beliefs are.”
The greatest barrier to deep conversations comes down to expectations, Kumar explains. We either overestimate how awkward deep conversation will be, or we underestimate how much people will care about what we have to say.
A quick look at what Scripture says about our conversations reveals that words matter; our conversations can build up or tear down, bring life or promote death. Consider these two verses:
“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Ephesians 4:29
“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” Colossians 4:6
According to Paul, our speech is to be others-oriented, gracious, wholesome and thoughtful. These kinds of conversations make others feel seen and valued and bring us joy in return. They bond us together in our shared humanity.
Getting the conversation going
If deep conversations bring happiness, how can we overcome barriers and start having more quality talks this year? Here are three ways to foster deeper conversations:
Ask meaningful questions. Kumar explains that as part of his study, he gave subjects deep questions to discuss such as, “What are you most grateful for in your life?” or “When was the last time you cried in front of another person?” While asking a deeper question may feel like a risk, it sometimes opens the door to more authentic conversation.
A friend at church often asks unexpected versions of common questions. Instead of asking, “How was your day?” she’ll ask, “What is something that made you smile today?” Instead of asking, “How was your week?” she’ll ask, “What is something you’re looking forward to this week?” Her questions lead to a real conversation rather than stock answers.
Pursue transparency. The other day a friend and I were discussing what it means to be an “open person” and if you can be too open. While there’s certainly a spectrum there, and we’ve all met — or possibly are — the person who is constantly giving too much information (TMI), the truth is, bonding with others requires getting beyond small talk. Kumar explains:
“How does a stranger eventually become your friend, or your partner or your spouse? How do you develop deep relationships in the first place? You need to have these interactions in order for a stranger to become someone that you’re close with.”
Speaking of spouses, when I was single I came to a point of realizing that I had worked so hard at not being “boy crazy” that I often stifled interactions with single men.
“My demeanor toward the opposite sex was aloof and demure. I made sure not to show too much emotion or interest if someone of the opposite gender struck up a conversation with me.”
Eventually, having a few good male friends taught me that I could have genuine, meaningful conversations with both sexes.
Take risks. Ultimately, going deep involves some risk. That’s why many of us simply don’t make the effort or are extremely cautious in doing so. Here’s an example: When I’m going deeper in conversation, I often become animated. At times, people haven’t responded in kind to my enthusiasm, and I’ve felt a little foolish putting myself out there. But what I’ve realized is the people I was meant to have deeper connections with (including my husband, Kevin) aren’t put off by it; they’re drawn to it.
Kumar emphasizes we must keep trying to get past small talk, even when it’s uncomfortable. As we do, we will discover the joys and rewards of deep conversation, which will embolden us. This requires trusting that others do care about what we have to say (which research supports). More importantly, it requires that we truly care about what others have to say — which is the start of any good conversation.
Copyright 2022 Suzanne Hadley Gosselin. All Rights Reserved.