How to Have Meaningful Conversations

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Shot of conversation of two pretty young students in cafe

One of the most universally despised types of interaction on the planet has got to be small talk. Small talk is that kind of meaningless chatter that serves to make you both look polite, while avoiding meaningful topics and just passing the time. Topics that are up for grabs include the weather, the time, the location and the food (if any is available).
These subject matters do not lead to meaningful conversations and as such, they don’t help you to get to know the person you’re talking to better.
So how do you get to know that person better and have a conversation you’ll both actually find enjoyable or interesting?
Forget Questions and Answers
Many of us try to avoid small talk but in doing so, we can find ourselves actually making matters worse. In a desperate bid to avoid talking about the weather, we come into the situation armed with a series of questions that we then reel off one after the other.
We ask a person about what they studied at college.
We ask them what their favorite music is.
We ask them what they wanted to be when they were younger.
We ask them what their favorite film is.
We ask them what their favorite color is.
We realize where this has gone and we want to shoot ourselves then and there.
You know what’s actually a much better topic of conversation? Just to ask them about their day. If they are interesting and engaging people, then they will respond by telling us about their day and will actually provide some information other than ‘yeah okay thanks’. If they need a little more prompting, ask them what they actually got up to.
Ideally, this will then lead to new conversation and new insights OR it will allow you to share some opinions. If they got stuck in traffic, then that might be something you’ve experienced that you can lament about.
You’ll learn more about a person by talking normally than you will by quizzing them!
Ask (Logical) Questions and be Present
That said, you might find yourself wanting to dive a little deeper and this is where you can start asking the more emotionally charged questions.
You don’t need to ask the frankly cliched ‘what do you do in your spare time’ question. The problem is that this is a non-sequitur and good conversation should flow naturally from point to point.
Instead then, you could – while talking about that person’s work – ask them if they enjoy what they do. And based on that answer, ask them if they intend to stay there.
Likewise, when talking about partners, ask them how long they’ve been together. Who wears the trousers in the relationship? If they’re single, ask if they have anyone in their sights right now.
The point is that you’re going deep but in a natural way that follows on from the conversation.
Note that this also means you need to share information about yourself (something a little more personal than what you did for lunch). And note that you need to listen to the responses for this to work. Take a genuine interest and don’t try to dictate the trajectory of the conversation!
Citizen Coaching and Counselling provides one to one, couples and family counselling in Birmingham from our counselling centres in Birmingham City Centre and Jewellery Quarter. We have a number of counsellors that specialise in this work who can help you through difficult times. We have appointments available seven days a week – including evenings and at weekend daytimes.