Many people have trouble connecting with those they see often, whether it be roommates, acquaintances, colleagues or family members.
It can be easier to think of something to say if you’re talking to someone you haven’t seen in a while, because you just ask what they’ve been up to. Or if you’ve just met someone, you get to know them a little bit.
But what if there’s not really anything interesting to catch up on? How can you create meaningful connections as you continue to see each other? If you have this problem, it usually comes down to the following:
What you’re doing is collecting facts about people’s lives. About the stuff they’ve been doing. Like:
Where did you go?
Who did you go with?
When did you do that?
How was it? etc.
So, let me ask you something, as an exercise.
If you weren’t allowed to talk to your roommates, or family members, or colleagues about things they do, or things they’ve done… what else would you talk about? What might you ask them to get to know them as a person?
Think of someone you know, who you tend to run out of interesting things to talk about with, and write down your answer to the question, then continue reading.
If you see someone regularly and the only thing you talk about is what you’ve both been up to, you’re naturally going to run out of interesting things to discuss, because they probably haven’t done that much stuff since you last saw them… and neither have you.
If you want to create a meaningful connection with someone, you have to make the conversation about them as a person (and about you as a person), and not just about the stuff you’ve both been doing.
Here’s what I mean.
“What have you been up to?” is asking about stuff, whereas something like “What do you enjoy about that?” is asking about them as person.
The second question gives them the opportunity to respond with something like “Oh I’m an adrenaline junkie,” or “I love the feeling I get when I build something with my own hands.”
You don’t really know anything about them if you just find out that they went surfing on the weekend, for example. That’s just stuff about their life. About what they’ve been doing.
But if you can get them to say, “I am,” “I love,” “I feel,” “I hate,” “I’m afraid of,” etc., well now you’re learning about them as a person. And if you share similar personal details about yourself, you’re creating a meaningful connection.
Plus, now that you’re talking about them, and about you, it’s very difficult to run out of things to say.
If they tell you:
I love building things with my hands.
I feel lonely when I’m stuck in my apartment for too long.
I hate cooking… probably because no one ever taught me.
I’m afraid of public speaking but I’m trying to get better at it.
Those things are much easier to connect with than something like “I had a party on the weekend,” because a party is just something they did. It’s not something they ARE, and not something they experience internally (like love, hate, fear, joy, surprise, confusion, etc.)
The latter will naturally spark your curiosity. Those deeper topics will naturally bring up more questions, and the conversation will flow more easily.
Here’s another exercise:
For each of the 5 statements in the list above, imagine your roommate, family member, or colleague said that statement to you. How could you respond in order to build a meaningful connection?
Remember to make your response about them as a person, or about you as a person. So internal experience, rather than external stuff that you’ve been up to.
Write your answers now, then continue reading through my example answers.
1. I’m an adrenaline junkie.
Oh yeah? What do you mean by that? Like do you love doing things that scare you, or are you just nuts?
2. I love building things with my hands.
Hmm, I think that’s something I don’t do enough of. I used to love playing with LEGO as a kid, but now I just spend most of my time on my laptop. I’m pretty sure I’d enjoy building things with my hands though. I think it’d add something to my life.
3. I feel kinda lonely when I’m stuck in my apartment for too long.
Really? I think I got used to it because I work from home. What do you miss?
4. I hate cooking… probably because no one ever taught me.
Haha, see, I like it… I’m just not very good at it. Do you think you’d like it if you knew how to make fancy stuff, like, I dunno, a croquembouche?
5. I’m afraid of public speaking but I’m trying to get better at it.
What scares you about it?
The common thread between these responses might not be obvious, but it’s this:
Whether you’re asking about them, or sharing something about yourself, the effect is similar. Notice how in Example 2 I didn’t ask a question… but the “wondering” nature of my statement still feels like an invitation for them to share.
Now, I’m not saying you should always only talk about them as a person, or you as a person. You can still talk about what they’ve been up to, what you’ve been up to and all that… as long as you also sometimes link that back to their internal experience.
So ask yourself:
Does your response feel like an invitation for the other person to share something meaningful about themselves?