I’m breaking a new rule here and giving advice about deepening connection in conversations because my colleague Jechanovia summarized a portion of a long blog post I wrote, titled “15 Questions to Ask Instead of How Are You?”, during the early days of the COVID19 pandemic. I hope that more people read this one because it’s shorter. 

So here goes:

If you’d like to have a deeper connection and learn more in your conversations, I can share a few ideas for you to try on:

  • Try not to think about what you will say next when listening.
  • Try listening to understand and notice how you are touched or moved by what somebody says.
  • Try not to judge positively or negatively (“that sucks” or “that’s awesome”), and avoid giving the person a compliment, fixing them or giving advice.
  • Most importantly, don’t respond to make it about you. 

One thing that surprised me when I first started exploring deepening connection through story and using the re-dignifying practices was how, even when I made a positive judgement like “that’s awesome,” I’d notice the conversation wouldn’t go as deep. I wouldn’t learn as much and I wouldn’t feel as good afterward.

In some cases, I think it’s because even in the context of a positive judgement or conclusion (that’s awesome, you must be excited etc), I’m still making a judgement on their life experience or their thoughts. It’s totally normal and part of our survival to judge, but avoiding judgement seems to work best for deepening connection, creating psychological safety, and learning something new.

In my experience, judging or concluding in conversations usually results in one of two scenarios:

  1. The person speaking switches gears stops abruptly or disagrees with you instead of going further into whatever they were talking about. In some very rare cases, someone may say “Yes, and” after you place a positive or negative judgement, but it doesn’t feel as good to them as it would have if you asked them a question rather than share how it touched you. I think this is partly because if we respond with a general term like “that’s awesome” or “that sucks,” our conversational partner doesn’t know how well we are listening.
  2. We get into an analytical or academic conversation about the topic. (for me this is often a way to not look at what’s going with my body and emotions)

Both conversational options are not ideal for deepening our connection.

Re-dignifying practices offer these invitations:

  1. Ask questions you don’t know the answer to. “Respect” comes from the Latin word “Respecere” which means to look again or look back. 
  2. Be open to being transformed or surprised
  3. See others as the authors of their own story. What’s right for their story may not be right for theirs or not in the order you might think.
  4. Listen for how you are touched or moved

I hope that in some small way these practices make your isolation time a wee bit better. I’m finding this time to be a rollercoaster of moments where, at one moment my heart is cracked open, at another, I’m highly productive, and at another, I’m utterly exhausted.

While I do try to use these practices constantly I also forget all the time when I’m feeling rushed, unsafe, burnt out, or really in my head. I tell myself, “it’s ok Duncan, you can say sorry and try again. ” When we are willing to be vulnerable and self-correct, we may allow space for others to feel comfortable to do the same.

Conversations with friends, doing exercise, mindfulness practices, less social media, and eating more delicious, nutrient-dense local food that satiates my body are what have been nourishing me in these times. My sincerest thank you for reading. I love you and thank you for taking the time and I wish you whatever your heart and body desire today.

In a recent talk by Peter Block my imagination was sparked when he said that if you want to deepen relationships and go to new places, he suggests that you “don’t be helpful, be curious.”  I wrote about more of these conversational practices and what you can try instead of placing positive judgement or conclusions in this recent post on Trust Building Practices for Deeper Connection and Stronger Relationships.

What are some conversations in your daily life where you could implement some of these practices? How do you think it will shift the interaction?

Wishing you more of what your heart and body desire.