Keys to Authentic Conversation

When life gets busy, I get serious about reflection. The start of school is a time of frenzied connection and reconnection, and

when it comes to connecting with others, questions are vitally important.

Without questions we will never be fully understood. We get lost in speculation about what people want to hear. We fail to discover shared interests. If questions are so important, how can we do better to connect? Does knowledge about social interactions empower us to connect more genuinely? During my first week back to class, I’ve been watching for the keys to authentic conversation that slip by in the frenzy of activity that is the start of the school year.

Sticking to scripted questions without prodding creatively quickly turns people off. Questions like “What’s your major?” and “What do you do?” are great places to start because they inform the other person of your interest in them, but if you’re aiming for a deeper connection, you must understand the limits of prefabricated questions.

Not much is more dehumanizing than a prefabricated conversation. 

When it’s over you don’t know the person any deeper than when you started. Instead all you know is their prefabricated responses to your prefabricated questions. What’s the fun in that?

People who connect well understand that others’ decisions are fueled by deep feelings—inspiration, frustration, loathing—that are waiting to be teased out. The process of how I chose my current major has a great deal of meaning behind it, and if you were to ask not “what I wanted to do with it,” but rather “why I was drawn to it,” we would feel a stronger connection.

If you want to connect with a Music Performance major, don’t ask them “what they want to do when they graduate.”

Instead ask them what they love about performing or how they first started playing their instrument. If you want to connect with a Political Science major, ask them their opinion of Russia’s anti-homosexuality laws or their eerie silence on Syrian affairs. You’ll know you’ve gotten better when you can tease passion out of a General Studies major.

Putting yourself on the backburner is essential to cultivating a genuine interest in someone. If there is an opportunity for connection between you and whomever you’re talking to, don’t bring yourself up—wait for them to ask about you.  Too many people bring conversations back to themselves, which is not the goal.

The goal of connection is a shared experience

and when you express interest in someone it opens up a space in the interaction into which you can both grow. This also makes them more likely to reciprocate interest in you, allowing you to soak up the warmth of their presence as they listen to you.