We know from positive psychology that strong, nurturing relationships and connection with others are critical to our health, happiness and well-being. Regular and meaningful conversation is a really important way to create connection and nurture relationships.
The trouble is we’re losing the art of regular and meaningful conversation. Other priorities get in the way, and sadly we spend much of our time in one way communication. Whether it be on-line, at the dinner table or in the board room, we spend a lot of our time just saying things at each other, telling people stuff we want them to hear with little regard for their needs, interests or responses.
Thursday 15 September, 2011 is RUOK? Day. It’s a national day of action which aims to prevent suicide by encouraging Australians to connect with someone they care about and help stop little problems turning into big ones. On that day we want everyone across the country, from all backgrounds and walks of life, to ask family, friends and colleagues: “Are you OK?”. It’s so simple.
Often when we ask people how they are, we don’t want to hear how they really are. If they are brave enough to tell us, we can switch off pretty quickly, by thinking about what else we should be doing (gosh is that the time…), responding to other distractions (oh there’s another SMS…), or getting absorbed in our own thoughts (what shall I have for dinner…..). We’re uncomfortable with emotion, and often don’t know how to respond, and so pretty quickly we find a way to interrupt and bring the conversation around to us.
Connecting with people in conversation requires only a few basic skills. Here’s five of my favourites:
- Make time
Any relationship requires nurturing – like plants which require sun, water and nutrients for survival and growth, your relationships need your time and your effort, without which they won’t survive
- Be fully present
Focus on the other person with your whole body, heart and mind, not on external distractions or your own internal thoughts (for example what you are going to say next!)
- Share the stage
There are some times when a conversation needs to focus on one person alone, but in general we feel most connected with someone when we share the direction and the content of the conversation and the amount of listening and responding we do
- Ask questions
If you’re not sure what to say, do or to talk about, ask sensitive questions to help establish the other person’s needs – ask what they’d like to talk about, what’s important to them right now, what can you do to help or how they’d like you to respond
- Show empathy and understanding
One of our most basic human needs is to taken seriously – you don’t have to solve someone’s problem, but it makes a massive difference if you can show them they’ve been heard, understood and valued.
Feeling lonely, isolated or hopeless can contribute to depression, other mental illnesses, and even suicide. Regular, meaningful conversations can protect those we know and love. Ask the people you care about if they’re OK, and be sure to ask with the intention of really connecting with them. In the time it takes to have a coffee, with the right approach and intention, you can start a conversation that could change a life.