Creative Conversations

– By Sharon Ashton and Raksha Dave-Gates (Counselling Psychologists)

Many people look forward to the New Year as a time to focus fresh energy on self-development.  Typical resolutions involve positive lifestyle changes such as committing to an exercise or weight loss program or dropping hazardous health habits like smoking or eating junk food.  January can also provide the impetus to learn new skills that hold the promise of improving important relationships in our lives, especially those with family, friends, and co-workers.

Last month we drew your attention to some subtle and more direct ways that others may be reaching out or “bidding” for connection with you.   Of course it is equally important to ask yourself, “How do I make bids for connection with others?”  When relationships need improvement, our energy often focuses on the other person – what he or she is not doing well.  We suggest that your energy is better spent by focusing on what you can control and improve ¾ your awareness and clear communication of your thoughts, feelings, observations, and opinions.  Remember that non-verbal bids send clear messages too!  Use affectionate and playful touch in the relationship, facial expressions, and even your daily connecting gestures (e.g., opening a door, handing over the remote etc.,) to show your care and interest.

In his book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie gives sage advice that will guide you as you increase your efforts to build more satisfying relationships.  He suggests that to become effective communicators, we need to focus on being interested, rather than on being interesting!! Becoming sincerely interested in learning about another’s perspective can do more for building connection with them than any other single factor.  It is encouraging to realize that conversational skill can be developed quickly and may be one of the most potent ways to bid for emotional connections with those we care most about. Here are some useful communication starters:

A penny for your thoughts…

What’s your favorite…?

How did you like…?

What did you think about…?
What would you like to be doing in a year from now?

Did you ever wonder…?

I was thinking…

I feel…

Have you noticed that questions we hear in everyday conversation, like “How was school?” “How have you been?” or “What’s new?” usually get one word or uninvolved responses?  It may be that pat answers (e.g., Fine, Great! or Not much!) are given mindlessly because the listener is not sure what you really want to know.  Instead, try asking something just a bit more specific to the individual, like “What did you do in English today?”, “Have you made any winter vacation plans this year?”

Good conversations, unlike dancing, involve patterns of shared leading and following.  As you exchange thoughts, feelings, and responses with one another, intimacy and emotional connection grows and deepens.  Your skill in drawing others out and showing sincere interest in them can give you a tremendous tool to use as you follow through on your resolution to develop solid emotional connections in the New Year.