There's an element of awkward in a face-to-face conversation with someone new: direct eye contact that lasts a bit too long, the smell of coffee breath, and the tango of talking points that move the conversation forward.
It's far too easy to skip the human interaction and go on to the next "like" or reply to a new tweet. Unfollow and move on. Shift to a new conversation instead of digging deep and learning about the other person. I'm there with you, scrolling through my Facebook timeline and enjoying the random conversations between friends on different continents. A sucker for click-bait. The thing is, more and more people spend a large chunk of their time engaged in the digital world when a meaningful and authentic conversation -- one that builds a trusting relationship -- lies outside the screen of a smartphone.
Three Tips from the Greats on How to Build Meaningful Conversation
Having a meaningful and authentic conversation has been a struggle since we descended from trees whether it's to find a soulmate or the next cocktail networking party. Here are just three tips from the greats:
1. Build Trust With Others
Trust comes from time put in. The next time you meet someone new, listen to important dates or events coming up in the person's life. Put those dates into your calendar and send them an email or give them a call afterwards. Say the person you meet will be running the NYC Marathon in a few weeks. The day before the race, send a message wishing them luck on the race. Commit to a time to meet up again and ask how the race went. Continue to look for elements in the other person's life which you can follow up with the next time you see each other.
"Trust is the glue of life. It's the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It's the foundational principle that holds all relationships." - Stephen Covey
2. Ask Questions
It's so simple I'm afraid to even write it down and run the risk of you ditching this post to go read a new article that's flashing on the side of this screen right now. But it's incredible how many people, myself included, fail to ask meaningful questions about the other person. Ramit Sethi tells us to get people to talk about themselves more and build a conversation around that. You may not care a lick about the topic they talk about, but that's not the point. The point is to learn about the other person. You may hate football, but if the person talks about her fantasy football team, then run with it.
Quick tip: Instead of asking "What do you do" or (even worse) "What do you do for money?" ask someone where they are from or take a note from Daniel Pink who says we should ask people "What's your story?" Many people don't like to be defined by their job. Life is much more than the job title we possess.
"Ask questions. Many people don't ask questions at all and love to talk about themselves." - Ramit Sethi
3. Swim in The Difference
There's a tipping point in a conversation after the initial hello. Understand that we all perceive the world differently depending on our own schema, culture, and individual experiences. You may feel comfortable with two feet of space between our faces when we talk and I might need three feet, all depending on our different cultural habits.
"To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this as a guide to our communication with others." - Tony Robbins
Meaningful conversation can be intensely awkward and your sweat glands may tell you to stick to the digital world for communication. There you'll be able to quickly leave and move on to the next tweet. The digital world is a beautiful place where one can communicate cross culturally, really connect with a micro-niche community that feels like family, and quickly engage in surface-level conversation. It's not, however, where we can often dig deep into a conversation that Socrates would be proud of.
I'll be there with you -- scrolling through my timelines, tagging others in my Instagram feed, and sharing what I read with others. I'd love to connect with you too and learn a bit about you and we'll chat, Tweet-style. I'm afraid our relationship, however, will likely remain surface-level until we meet face-to-face for a damn fine cup of coffee. And this coffee is on me.
Mark W. Guay is an educator and the voice of The Traveling Cup Podcast where he helps change-makers have greater impact in their work. Subscribe to his newsletter here.