The holidays, with their many gatherings and social opportunities, have passed. I still feel the warmth of many renewed connections. Some were stimulated by relatives and friends sharing information about past and upcoming trips, others by the sadness over the many health problems that we’re all facing.
Can you imagine a group of 20-year-olds talking about their health? No, not likely. 20-year-olds still live in a world of youthfulness and that means health.
Now think for a moment what happens when you gather with your 60+ cohort. “How are you?” is often followed by a litany of problems. Or if they’re healthy, people will express how grateful they are because everyone around them is having problems.
How does such a conversation make you feel? After hearing a story about someone’s disastrous behavior in your church, do you feel better because you heard the latest gossip about other members of your community? Or do you feel drained?
As we roll into a new year, let’s look at communication that can help vitalize us and improve our social connections.
By exchanging information we can learn things that will help us function better, survive and improve our living circumstances.
When you speak with people, are you asking specific and measurable questions related to learning and growing? For example: “Can you give me two references for handymen who serve an older population?”
It’s also possible that you spend the time communicating random tidbits you’ve heard, read or picked-up from others without finding out if these tidbits interest the person you’re speaking with. This is called cocktail party talk.
To avoid cocktail talk, steer such conversations in the direction you want by asking specific questions that will give you meaningful information.
By asking personal questions we can build relationships while creating trust and understanding. Open-ended questions achieve these results.
For example: “Can you share some activities you did on your visit with your daughter?” Such a question gives the person the freedom to share what was important to him or her, yet is more specific than asking “How was your visit with your daughter?”
A good listener can easily pick up on the things the speaker values and can join the conversation by showing understanding. As a result, the speaker feels appreciated and becomes more open to the respective person – and relationship becomes warmer. The two people feel ‘connected.’
Some forms of communication do not increase connection or give useful information.
Giving unsolicited advice instead of simply listening and showing that you care creates distance in any relationship. When the words ‘you should’ come into a conversation, we tend to feel we’re coming up short, or need to improve ourselves. That is not a good feeling.
Only give advice when you’re asked to do so. To avoid unsolicited advice, cut the conversation short by saying, “Thank you, but I’d like to solve this myself,” and walk away.
When the question, “Did you hear what so-and-so did last week?” enters a conversation, you can bet there will be judgment in the telling. Moreover, the person talked about has no chance to defend him- or herself.
Gossip about people in the community creates tension and negative energy. Also, it excludes people from being part of a trusting group.
To avoid gossip, tell the person who initiates the topic that you’re more interested in sharing what’s going on in your life or learning about theirs, instead of discussing people who aren’t present.
Boasting about your life doesn’t serve the purpose of creating connection, either. If you’re excited about something you’ve achieved, share the experience and let others be the judge of how well you did.
For example, when I talk about my hikes, I don’t mention the distance I hiked unless asked. I talk about my experiences, trying to let the listener relate so they can share in the enjoyment, instead of making them feel like they could never have such an experience because of the distance or effort required.
Effective, vitalizing communication requires that the communicator speaks concisely, listens and asks pertinent questions. It’s never too late to improve our vitality. How we communicate and what we tolerate when others talk is a measure of our wish to live an engaged, vital life.
Have you experienced conversations that drained or vitalized you? What was the reason? What do you think you can do to improve such conversations? Please share your thoughts below.