Building relationships is a primary focus in my life right now.
I spend a large portion of my time reading about communication practices, relationships, character-building and many other topics — I then go out and put this knowledge into practice by engaging other people from all sorts of backgrounds in order to challenge myself and grow in the process.
I recently sat down with someone I had never met before. We had an engaging and edifying 2-hour long conversation. This is a personal milestone since I used to have trouble keeping a meaningful conversation going longer than 15-minutes…
Here are some ways I practice interacting with people to create better and more meaningful relationships.
#1. Make The Conversation About Them
Before meeting with someone or engaging them, remind yourself what the purpose of the encounter is. In some cases, it will be appropriate to be the center of attention and guide the conversation to center around you.
But in most situations, if you are interested in establishing a relationship with a person, you need to shift your focus and get rid of that self-centered perspective.
Focus your efforts on getting to know the other person. By keeping this goal in the back of your mind you will refrain from commandeering the conversation.
Also, don’t forget that everyone likes to talk about themselves. Unless you have something to prove…you have nothing to lose by allowing the other person the enjoyment of speaking their mind.
#2. Do Not Respond to Them
That’s right, don’t respond to the person across from you. Do not answer them. Instead, prepare a followup question when they finish speaking!
Ask a question instead of responding with a story.
This is not to say that you are forbidden from ever actually sharing a story…but making it a goal to have more questions than answers can lead to amazing places for both individuals!
I recently sat down with an impressively accomplished and hard-working professional. For almost the entire length of the encounter I only asked questions. I did share some personal experiences and stories but only when it felt right.
As I asked each question (which, by the way, were actually relevant to the conversation…these are not general questions but rather focused and meaningful questions), the other person opened up more and more and I learned so much! Had I merely filled the space with more of my own stories I would have lost an amazing opportunity to learn from someone I truly admire.
#3. Let Awkward Pauses Happen!!
Ok, this one is a new one for me. I am working on practicing it.
I used to be the most awkward person — conversation, engagement, demeanor, you name it — so, I thought that the worst thing that could happen in a conversation was for there to be a slight lull…a moment when neither person was speaking. I was so wrong!
I’m telling you, let there be lulls! (no, not lols, lulls) As I have been trying this out (with much trepidation), I have been really surprised by what happens.
Instead of the whole world crashing down and the entire conversation dying in front of me, the other person goes a level deeper into whatever they previously finished speaking about.
Without even asking another question, your counterpart volunteers to speak further about something important to them.
Try it. Don’t fill the silent space. Let it turn into a deeper level of engagement!
#4. Diversify & Increase Your Intake
Ok, even though the majority of these practices involve silence, it is still necessary to have a good amount of “content” (if you will) to share.
This means being able to speak on a variety of topics or comment on diverse situations based on your own experience, whether it comes from living it, reading it, knowing someone associated with it etc.
Diversify — most people read/listen to the same sources of information habitually (certain influencers, one news network, a single periodical). Most people also spend time with the same people repeatedly and therefore are not exposed to an ever-increasing range of perspectives and experiences.
Change this by reading something you would not normally read, listening to something unfamiliar to you and by engaging someone who does not sit within your close, traditional social circle.
You are now “diversifying your intake,” which means you are not only developing your perspective, but you are also preparing yourself for future relationship-building opportunities.
Increase — this is obvious. The more you take in, the more equipped you are to put out. Once you have diversified, increase your intake of information! Eventually, you will not be struggling to come up with things to contribute to a conversation. Rather, your biggest worry will be which of the many things you are familiar with to contribute.
In order to connect with anyone and everyone and build meaningful relationships:
- Focus the conversation on the opposite party
- Ask questions instead of responding with stories
- Allow awkward pauses to happen!
- Diversify and increase your intake of information