It’s not hard to find conversation. It is all around us. But truly interesting conversation – that is a rare find. Just take a couple of rides on an elevator and listen to what people are saying. It’s not really gripping or all that interesting. Bad conversations aren’t just limited to elevators though; they’re everywhere.
In fact, I’d argue that some people have conversations as if their entire life was one long elevator ride. Of course, you don’t have to live like that. There are some things you can do to have meaningful, interesting conversations.
Levels of Conversations
In its basic form, all conversation is the sharing of information. Just imagine calling someone on the phone right now and not sharing any information at all. It’s impossible to do since you’re always telling someone a story or relating the events of your day to them.
Most of the time, you’re sharing information about yourself. With that in mind, it’s important to note the three levels of information you share: demographic, sociographic and psychographic.
Information that is factual about you. These are things like your age, gender, place of birth, what you had for breakfast this morning, etc.
Information about your behavior. What foods do you like to eat, what activities you enjoy doing, etc.
Information about your thoughts. These are things like your values, attitudes, interests, how you view abstract concepts like justice and morality.
Looking at these three levels of conversation, can you identify which area you spend the most time with other people? Most likely, you answered number one and two. And there’s a good reason for that. It’s hard to walk up to a stranger and ask them about their values and attitudes.
But it is in the third area where some of the best conversations happen. Listening to other people explain their thoughts really builds a connection and lets you know that person in a much deeper way. Time spent in area 3 and to a lesser extent area 2 is where the real dynamics of good social interaction come from.
In fact, I bet if you were to examine your conversations with your closest friends you’d find that most of them involve areas 2 and 3. You probably also consider them to be excellent conversationalists. That’s no coincidence.
Become More Interested in Everything
One key thing to remember about creating interesting conversations is to be interested in as many topics as possible. Over the years, I’ve become fascinated by many diverse topics ranging from travel, literature, action movies, economics and rock climbing. Due to the wide range of interests, I’ve been able to have great conversations with a wider range of people.
Of course there are still some subjects I don’t know very well and have no real interest in. But I still can find a way to start a good conversation. Just recently I had a long conversation with my wife about basketball, a subject I have no interest in.
I did it in a way that became more interesting to me by asking her what she liked best about the sport. This brought the conversation to level 3 communication about her thoughts on the game and made the conversation much more interesting. Instead of hearing about the stats she knows about the games or players, I turned it into a way to get to know her better as a person.
Add Value and Relate
Of course conversations involve more than just sharing information about who you are. You can talk about the weather, sports, the news or a book you’ve been reading. So what about that information? Well, you can divide this information in three ways: facts, opinions and stories.
I consider facts to be extremely useful, but they usually don’t make great conversations by themselves. They can drive a conversation along, but shouldn’t be relied on entirely since they don’t often contribute to good conversational flow. Let me give you an example.
A few years ago I had a job in an office. Each day I’d eat lunch with some co-workers who always talked about the weather. And I mean they discussed the exact temperature and if it was higher or lower than the previous day. Boring weather facts didn’t take the conversations very far.
Good conversations rely more on opinions. Opinions provide a way for people to relate and contribute to the conversation in a way that facts often don’t. This is the best way to understand what the other person thinks about the world. You can get new perspectives and thoughts about things instead of just boring facts and figures.
Another way to create good conversations. Stories are how people interact with the world so naturally they make for good conversations. Of course some stories can be boring depending on how you tell it and what it is about.
Something to remember about creating interesting conversations is that some people just seem to be incapable of maintaining a good conversation even after you start one. Of course it could be that some people might just be shy or reluctant to share thoughts they consider private. I wouldn’t push it too hard if that’s the case.
But in a world where boring conversations are the norm, it’s best to try and get better conversations started. Otherwise you’ll just end up being another person trapped in that elevator of bad conversations. It’s time to open the doors and let yourself out.
photo credit: Joshua Rappeneker