How to get deeper with the people you love
Updated: Jan 28
Face-to-face conversations can help or hinder your connections. Here's how to improve yours.
Whether it's by email, phone, social media or face-to-face, we are communicating with others more than ever before. In fact, we're in touch with people so frequently these days, it's likely that you like me, are often communicating in a thoughtless, throw-away manner without even realising it. When we stop to think about how our communication style is received, we can proactively ensure our exchanges have a more positive impact.
Recently I had the shock realisation that I'd lost a great opportunity to strengthen the relationship with my husband because of the way I'd chosen to interact with him. It certainly wasn't deliberate. And in hindsight, I know it was simply the result of being tired and too busy.
He was struggling with a problem and wanted empathy and advice, and I was only half paying attention and changed the topic. I left him feeling de-prioritised and unsupported. I also probably came off a bit selfish in the moment. Looking back now, I realise how bonding it could've been if I was really involved in that conversation. I could have helped him, brought more teamwork to our marriage and let him know I really cared. It led me to wonder how often this was actually occurring between us - and to do something about it.
Facing up to digital communication
Conversations are the most common and effective way we interact with those around us. We converse with our friends, families, colleagues, neighbours and even strangers every day.
Unfortunately, it's easy to overlook the power of positively talking, and we miss a chance to improve the quality of our interactions, relationships and support structures through these exchanges.
There are multiple ways we can communicate with people. And while online options like Facebook, texting and virtual conversations do have some value, they can also draw us away from the most effective method of communicating - which is face-to-face.
Choosing your conversation style
When it comes to those face-to-face exchanges, how we respond can have a huge impact on our connections with others. Some conversation styles help those connections, while others hinder them.
Imagine someone sitting at home in front of the television, scrolling on their phone. Their partner comes home from work, walks into the room and says, "Guess what? I met with my boss today and he's putting me forward for a promotion!"
There are four ways that the person hearing this will interact or respond: active or passive, and constructive or destructive engagement.
In a quadrant, your worst response would be passive-destructive, and your best would be active-constructive. Here's why:
If you're passive-destructive, your focus is on yourself, not on the conversation or the needs of the other person. You're avoiding the connection by not engaging, and you might be dismissive with your body language.
This means you might completely ignore your partner and their promotion and say, "I'm watching the footy" or vaguely acknowledge them by saying, "What? Keep talking, I'm listening", without turning away from the TV. In short, you're demonstrating the conversation doesn't matter to you right now.
If you're active-destructive and the person says, "I've been put forward for a promotion," you might say, "Wait a minute, you're already stressed out. I never even see you. Why would you want a bigger job? Your boss is probably lying to you again just to get more work out of you." This would also be paired with negative body language, like crossed arms and a frown.
This is a response you give when you're stressed or feeling overwhelmed and frustrated. It's a reflection of yourself, not the other person. It leaves them feeling either embarrassed or resentful. This type of response doesn't just kill the conversation, but also their sense of belonging and worthwhileness, leaving the person feeling isolated and insignificant.
When you're passive-constructive, you've got low energy. You don't mean to cause any harm, and you could be using eye contact and the 'right' responses, but the conversation doesn't come alive.
In this case, you might say, "Good job, honey, that'll help pay off the mortgage." You do care, but you're still watching the football and you're not celebrating with that person. It's quite an apathetic response that can be destructive to a relationship.
This is the style of communication that helps us deepen our relationships. When you're actively and constructively engaging with news, you turn your full body to face the person and offer an enthusiastic physical and emotional level of support:
"How exciting! I know how much you hoped this job would come your way. It's going to lead to bigger things. I want to hear exactly what the new role will be. This is wonderful!"
By engaging this way, you're celebrating and validating their achievement, but also their sense of self and belonging. It shows you value the other person, and it's important to have these types of conversations on a regular basis. It might not be achievable for every interaction, but it's certainly what we should be aiming for in the way we engage with those around us, particularly our loved ones.
3 ways to be a more active and constructive communicator:
Consider your body language
After reflecting on that disappointing conversation with my husband, I now always try to turn my eyes, my feet, and my shoulders towards any person I'm engaging with. This simple shift in body language brings more warmth and commitment to the interaction and instantly shows your companion that they matter to you.
Unplug for a moment
I know families that have a 'digital sunset'. From dinnertime, they won't allow phones to be within reach - they have a phone box in the kitchen and that's where devices stay during the meal. At work, I simply try to lower my laptop screen or put down my phone and stop multitasking when a colleague comes to talk to me. These are both simple ways of showing the person they have my full attention.
Ask more questions
I'm often rushing between meetings or trying to get home to the kids, but being busy can no longer be an excuse for poor interactions. Instead I'm using the little trick of asking open-ended questions as a deliberate way to slow down and elevate my engagement with the people in my life. I want to show them I value their time and I really care.
By doing these small things in your interactions with others, you'll experience far more authentic conversations that will deepen your connections and improve the relationships around you. Not surprisingly, your own sense of personal belonging will likely improve, too. Think about it - the flow on effect at a societal level would be enormous.
Originally published on www.onelife.aiavitality.com.au on May 9, 2018.
Alisa Camplin is an Olympic Gold Medalist, in-demand Keynote Speaker, Corporate Ambassador, and Human Performance Consultant who delivers results-driven Resilience and Human Performance Training and Development Programs. Connect with Alisa.