We all know the feelings of being disconnected in conversation - someone distracted by their phone, having our words ignored or dismissed, or competitive talking where everyone tries to 'one up' the other and no one seems to listen. These conversations are frustrating even infuriating and often leave us feeling separated or alone.
The truth is we can’t control how another will hear us, how they engage, or what they might say. We can however increase the likelihood of better and more fulfilling conversations by engaging from a place of connection; connection to ourself, connection to the other person, and connection to the conversation itself.
These 3 subtle shifts in our perception influence the way in which we interact and encourage more presence and engagement from the person we are speaking with.
1) Connect to yourself
It’s easy to lose ourselves in conversation particularly if the topic is sensitive or we feel pressure to make a good impression. We may find ourselves taking things personally or saying what we imagine the other person wants to hear, as oppose to what we actually want to contribute. Self responsibility for our feelings, reactions, and perceptions allows us to more effectively navigate conversation through listening, reflection, and participation. This self connection creates confidence and clarity which in turn makes our words more impactful.
When it comes to broaching a difficult conversation take time prior to connect within yourself. Give yourself space to feel and think everything you want to say. Journal it out and be as angry, judgmental, even rude as you like (do not send this!). Once you have gotten everything out step back and clarify what is yours - your emotions, needs, judgements, perceptions, and expectations. At this time take the other person completely out of the equation, remove blame, and get clear on what you feel, need, and desire. Notice any motivations to be right, manipulate, or look good and see if you can land on an intention for conversation that rests in personal truth and mutual respect. For example, I may want to share with a colleague something I found unprofessional. If I go to them with the intention of generating mutual respect and support I will likely have better results then if I approach them in a self righteous place of wanting to show them how they were wrong.
When engaging in conversation remain present and attentive. Turn off the phone, maintain soft eye contact, and become aware of the sensations in your body. If you notice your mind has trailed off or that you are just waiting for your turn to speak bring your presence back to the conversation. When strong emotions arise breath through them. These emotions/sensations may indicate a good place to seek clarification or understating, signal a personal need, or act as a reminder to take a few breaths to process before responding. This presence within yourself will help you stay grounded and connected so that you can communicate more clearly.
Self connection also means listening to yourself. As you speak stay connected to your body and slow down enough so that you can hear your words. By listening to yourself you will both remain present and speak in a way that is easier for the other person to hear.
(To learn more check out 'Begin with You')
Connect to the other
To connect with another person in conversation is about more then just being quiet when they speak. We connect by offering respect for them in their humanity and by engaging with genuine curiosity and a desire to understand. Human beings are complex. We arrive with a plethora of thoughts, emotions, needs, perceptions, and experiences. By seeing another person in the complexity of their humanity we are more likely to empathize, listen, and seek understanding that is lost when we put them into a label or generalization. Here, we separate from our assumptions of their beliefs/ motivations/ feelings and instead seeking to clarify our understand through inquiry and engagement.
Every person can teach us something if we are willing to listen. If we notice that we are dismissing another - perhaps with a different view or ideology - we have an opportunity to instead learn the motivations or impulses driving these ideas. Mutual respect creates a foundation of connection and the possibility for an exchange of ideas - sometimes even changes of mind. Generally, if someone is dogmatic or rigid about an idea they will strengthen their belief in the face of conflict. However, by seeking to understand and offering a sense of genuine care and respect this rigidity may soften.
It can be challenging to seek understanding when the other person does not seem to reciprocate. It is a personal choice to engage in this way and it requires effort, presence, and grace - however the effects can be remarkable.
(To learn more check out 'Be a Good Listener')
Connect to the Dance of Conversation
Conversation is a dance between listening and speaking, sharing and responding, leading and following. To connect is to dance between these polarities and create bridges by making requests for what we need and inquiring into the needs and ideas of another.
For those of us who become quiet or timid in conversation connecting to the dance may include actively sharing our ideas. If we are unsure how to create the space to speak we may something like, “You spoke about ________ I have some thoughts on that would you care to hear them?” This request connects the other into active listening while also giving us room to share our ideas.
For those of us who find speaking easy and tend to dominate conversations we can learn to step back, listen, and discover. With genuine curiosity we might ask questions and seek to learn more about another. Introverted or shy individuals often have intelligent and insightful things to say but are less likely to speak up on their own. By engaging these individuals with sincere questions and true listening we may create bridges, friendships, and discover things we never knew.
There is no way to guarantee a healthy dialogue. Yet, by connecting to ourself, to the other, and to the conversation we are likely to experience meaningful dialogue more often. With practice we may even find we can breach the most difficult interactions, from uncomfortable family dynamics to bad dates, with a sense of ease of resilience.
About the Author
Amy Thiessen is a coach, writer, and musician who focuses on helping others find and express a their voice with resonance. Her unique approach works with the wholistic mechanism of voice utilizing somatic awareness, psychology, mindfulness, spiritual practice, and vocal techniques of toning and song.