Deeper and more intimate conversations help a lot in understanding how someone is feeling and also helps you to connect with them better.
New York Times columnist David Brooks recently wrote of how the anxiety and isolation of the pandemic were impacting everyone in some way. He quoted trauma expert Bonnie Badenoch, who felt one antidote to this stress was a need to have “deep reciprocal attunement” (with others) that makes you feel viscerally safe. Columbia professor Martha Welch stressed the need to connect with others by having “vulnerable,” deep conversations.
Deep conversations may be an important way to connect with those we care about in these difficult times, but they are always a good idea. They are the foundation of strong intimate relationships — those “we talked all night” conversations when dating, or those seemingly rare but cherished, heartfelt times when you lowered your guard and spoke from your heart with someone you trust. They connect you to the human race, to those important in your life, in some way to yourself.
Good idea, but often easier said than done. Here are some tips of going deeper into your conversations:
1. Make sure it’s a good time to talk.
This is a matter of logistics. It’s hard to have a deep conversation when someone is on their cell phone driving to the grocery store or when they are trying to get their three kids to bed. These times are for quick check-ins — how-you-doing, catch-you-later speed conversations.
For those deeper conversations you need time; find out if the other person has some. Simple question: Is this a good time to talk?
2. Set the tone.
Because you’re the one initiating this, you need to be the one to set the tone, the one to let the other person know that you’re interested in having more than a how-you-doing check-in. There are two ways of doing this.
One is to set the tone by talking about yourself more deeply than you usually do. You want to move beyond the standard, “I’m good,” to more honest statements about how you are really doing – I’ve been feeling down lately; I don’t know about you, but my kids are driving me crazy; I had been doing okay until Tom and I had this argument last night.
This is about self-disclosure and revealing more of you and your feelings. With this introduction, you are letting the other person know what kind of conversation you want to have, what emotional level you are comfortable talking about.
You can then turn the conversation towards them.
The other approach is to ask hard questions at the start: Not the “Doing okay?” but “Have you been having a hard time?” “Have you been feeling depressed or worried?” “Are your kids driving you crazy or struggling?”
People only know what is safe to talk about based on what you talk about and what you ask. By drilling down into specific, more emotionally difficult conversations, you are letting the other person know that you are ready to hear what they have to say, that you are ready to go there.
3. Ask about details.
Good therapists do this instinctively. They try to move from broad statements (“I’ve been feeling anxious”) to the details: What about, what thoughts have you had, how do you talk to yourself? You don’t need to be a therapist and try to deconstruct the other person’s psychology, but you want to ask about details (about an argument they had or about how the kids are driving them crazy) because emotions ride on content.
Broad questions yield broad, bland emotions; detailed questions stir deeper, more poignant feelings. And expressing these deeper emotions and having them accepted glues people together.