‘Tis the season for holiday parties – which makes many people cringe and roll their eyes. “Ugh, another night of having to make small talk with a bunch of strangers.”
I will give you the same challenge that was laid down to me a few weeks ago. I heard a speaker who challenged all of us in the audience to leave and have “big conversations” with the other people who were at the meeting. “Little conversations,” she said, “are what you typically have at a cocktail party.” Little conversations sound like this: “What about this crazy weather?” “Is all of your holiday shopping done?” “What sports are your kids playing these days?” They are safe, relatively boring, and you don’t really learn a whole lot about the person with whom you are speaking. For a lot of people, that works just fine!
Big conversations, on the other hand, connect you to people, and who doesn’t want to feel connected? Big conversations sound like this: “I am so overwhelmed with all of this holiday stuff. Do you ever feel that way? What do you do to get through it all?” Or, “Tell me about one of your favorite family holiday traditions and why is it meaningful?” Or, “What three things do you really want to do in 2014?” Big conversations are as much about learning about other people in a really meaningful way as they are about us being authentic and vulnerable when we speak with others.
Do you ever talk to people where everything is “fine” in their lives? They have no problems. Actually, that’s not true. We all have problems of one sort or another. But, these people certainly aren’t going to show any vulnerability and share these problems with anyone else. These people put a barrier up for others, and it’s hard to penetrate that wall and get in. It makes it hard to get to know these people. I know I’ve had this experience. It leaves me feeling frustrated. I can leave a restaurant having just had lunch with a “friend” and I feel as if it was a bunch of surface conversation. I may not feel as if I know anything more about her than I did when we started. I know I leave times like this feeling very unfulfilled.
There are two strategies for breaking this cycle. One, try asking some “big” questions and see what happens. Don’t let the conversation drift into the mundane quick sand of boring small talk. Be really interested in what you are asking and what the other person is sharing. Big talk is so much more interesting than small talk. Two, share some “big” talk yourself. When you show your own vulnerability and willingness to share, it’s amazing how much of that comes back to you as well.
Big talk breaks down barriers and gets two people connected so much quicker than a series of ongoing small-talk conversations. I see it all the time. I felt it on my first date with my husband. We skipped the small talk and got right to the big talk. I left that date knowing so much more about him than who his favorite football team was and where he worked. I am constantly meeting with people who are going through their own divorce process. When I share my own vulnerability around my own divorce, share my emotions, share my experience, I find we immediately make a connection that forges a quick bond. They are much more open to answering big questions and finding healing through a cathartic conversation that matters.
I recently had lunch with three business colleagues. This was a professional lunch and was supposed to focus on business. After just a couple minutes of small talk as we got our menus and ordered an appetizer, I intentionally launched a couple of big questions. We had the absolute best lunch. We found we all had a lot in common that forged a “been there/done that” bond. Our dads had all passed away in recent years. We had all been through a divorce. We all had kids starting to drive (and could relate to the worries that brings). We eventually got to the business part of our meeting. Because we had built a trust and a connection that comes from “big” talk, we were able to make great progress and plans to more forward professionally.
This holiday season try “big” talk when you are that boring holiday party, when you are hanging out with your brother-in-law who you really don’t know that well, when you are going on that blind date, or when you are sitting next to someone at Starbucks. People respond to “big” talk … and it is so much more interesting and refreshing.
“Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. The friends who listen to us are the ones we move toward. When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand.” ~ Karl Menninger
What has been your experience been asking “big” questions and then really listening to the answers?
Author Monique A. Honaman wrote “The High Road Has Less Traffic: honest advice on the path through love and divorce” (2010) in response to a need for a book that provided honest, real, and raw advice about how to survive and thrive through one of life’s toughest journeys, and “The High Road Has Less Traffic … and a better view” (2013) to provide perspectives on love, marriage, divorce and everything in between. The books are available on Amazon.com. Learn more at www.HighRoadLessTraffic.com.