Making Meaningful Connections
Written by Rachel Ealy, M.Ed, LPC-Intern
Recently I was browsing LinkedIn and I stumbled upon an article that discussed how “successful people make small talk.” I decided to dive in to see if there were any helpful takeaways. All I could think of while reading was how important meaningful connections are. How many times a day are you asked, “how are you?” and how many times do you think the person asking genuinely wants to know? Asking ‘how are you’ is so engrained in our brains that the expression comes out effortlessly and without much meaning. Think of going to the coffee shop. You wait in line and finally, it’s your turn to order. “Hi, how are you?” comes out without you even thinking about it. Oftentimes, the other person doesn’t even answer, or they simply say “good” whether they are good or not. I do not think that asking “how are you” is a bad thing; however, I do believe that, in certain situations, there is a more effective way to make more meaningful connections. Whether it is at your place of work, a networking event, seeing your partner, running in to a friend, or talking with someone new while waiting in line at the coffee shop, building and maintaining meaningful connections is key to sustaining your support network, improving relationships, and making lifelong friends.
Make sure you know the purpose behind asking someone how they are doing. Are you asking because you aren’t sure what else to say? If so, here are a few tips for making more meaningful connections.
1. Ask engaging and open ended questions. Closed questions only require a yes or a no, or other similar one word answers.
-What was the best part about your day?
-Tell me about one thing you've learned recently that has inspired you.
-What are you looking forward to this week?
2. Tune in to the other person’s interests. If you are in a work setting, take note of what is in their office. You can ask questions based on what you see. For example, family photos, hobby memorabilia, awards, degrees, etc.
3. Share something about yourself. If you’re willing to open up, this communicates trust, which can serve as the foundation for a deeper connection.
4. Listen. Instead of listening to respond, listen to understand. In couples counseling, we go over this over and over. It’s much harder to do, especially in the moment when you think you have something really good to say. Sometimes taking a step back and listening can communicate to the other person that they are seen and heard.
5. Be aware of body language. Not only should you focus on what you are communicating through your body language, pay attention to what the other person is saying through their body language. Tone of voice, eye contact, facial expression, and posture all communicate engagement in the conversation. If the person you are talking to seems stressed or rushed, be respectful of that and perhaps schedule another time to meet. If they seem particularly excited about something, use this to ask more engaging questions. This will communicate that you are engaged, listening, and interested in making a meaningful connection!