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Conversations that matter

Give your attention entirely to your listener.   | Photo Credit: Freepik

Given that our social interactions have reduced considerably since the pandemic, many people may be craving company. Small pleasures like a coffee with a close friend, lunching with colleagues or hanging out at the beach with extended family cannot be easily replicated over Zoom calls. While video calls have been indispensable in helping us stay in touch, they do not capture the human connect and camaraderie of face-to-face interactions.

But even when we meet in-person, not every encounter is enlivening or engaging. In fact, a few interactions can actually be enervating. As our social interactions are now fewer and further apart, it’s important to have more meaningful exchanges when we meet people. In an article in The New York Times, writer David Brooks offers some insightful tips on how to have deep and meaningful conversations.

The types of questions we ask one another can impact the course of a conversation. Instead of relying on the banal, “How are you?” (which can evoke non-standard responses in these unusual times), Brooks asks you to think of off-beat questions. “What difficulties have you overcome in the past few months?” or “How is fear holding you back these days?”

To elicit thoughtful responses, we also need to give our conversational partners opportunities to elaborate on their answers. Instead of stemming the flow of talk with questions that can be answered in one-word or a simple yes/no, ask open-ended questions that elicit extended replies. “How do you feel about schools possibly reopening next year?” or “How do you think teachers can make online learning more effective?”

Brooks also exhorts you to give your attention entirely to your listener. This means not glancing at your phone or rehearsing your replies in your head. Simply listen with a non-judgmental mind. As your conversational partners begin to appreciate your immersive attentiveness, they are more likely to open up in uncharted and profound ways.

Attentive listening also involves getting comfortable with pauses in conversations. Not every statement or comment affords a reply. Sometimes, especially if someone has revealed sensitive information, silence coupled with empathy may be the most appropriate response. While words convey a particular mood or feeling, stillness may do a better job of communicating a shared understanding.

When people narrate an anecdote or incident, coax them to also share their thoughts, feelings and reactions to what transpired. Life, after all, is not just a series of events, but what we make of them. By expressing interest in your conversational partner’s perspective, you are helping them author their own narrative in their agentic voice. When people are thus able to divine meaning in daily events, either mundane or mysterious, they are likely to feel energised and enriched by such interactions.

If you deploy these strategies recommended by Brooks, you may find that your interactions with people renew and rejuvenate you. As your conversational partner also feels affirmed and validated by your acute attentiveness and sincerity, you may find that people start seeking you out when they want to discuss, debate or divulge information.

The writer blogs at www.arunasankaranaryanan. com and her book, Zero Limits: Things Every 20 Something Should Know, will be released by Rupa Publications.

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Printable version | Mar 1, 2021 7:12:36 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/education/with-social-interactions-now-being-fewer-and-further-apart-how-can-we-make-them-more-meaningful/article33702521.ece

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