The art of being genuine in conversation
A few weeks ago I went to see my brother in Germany (after not seeing each other for 5 years!), and I discovered something fascinating about the art of conversation.
Both of us being born and raised in New York, and by a dad who will literally talk to anyone, we both learned a few things:
- That talking to people is fun and easy, and you can do it anywhere.
- That other people love being engaged by someone interesting
- That it didn’t matter what you said, as long as you were yourself
Because when he and I are together, we find it so easy to express ourselves. We’re loud, crass, and talk about everything.
But not everyone is like that. And why it can be hard to ‘be ourselves’ when we talk to people. Especially because, if we’re being really honest, we find ourselves morphing into what that person wants to see and saying what they want to hear. A blanket statement like ‘just be yourself’ doesn’t help us in certain situations.
So what does that mean? That we always have to become who people want us to so we fit in?
Of course not.
What I’m about to share with you is much more than a technique–it is an invitation to look at your interactions, conversations, and relationships with people in a different way.
Because when you really think about it–why are conversations important?
It’s not just about getting good at small talk.
We have conversations so they can lead to RELATIONSHIPS.
And when we talk about this in the context of leadership, you know that your ability to lead almost relies solely on your ability to develop such deep connections with people that they believe in you…follow you…are inspired by you…are shaped by you. (What an incredibly important role to fill, by the way.)
It is absolutely essential to do this well, and do it right.
So for today, we want to put aside holding onto this idea of ‘being ourselves’. It’s not that it isn’t important. Let’s just put it on a shelf for now.
What you want to do instead is focus on hearing the unsaid.
What do I mean?
You are having a conversation with someone on your team, or someone very close to you (husband/wife/partner).
You COULD try to be yourself and express yourself as much as you can.
Or, you can listen.
You want to get a deep feeling for the person you’re now talking to. What’s going on with them? What was their reaction to what you said? How are they feeling?
When I’m in conversation, these are cues that I use for ‘what to say’ and where to go in the interaction.
For example, I was talking to a close girlfriend the other day and after something I said, I noticed her eyebrows furrow. It was ‘off’ because it was a change in her normal facial expressions in our interaction so far.
So I said to her: “You seem confused by what I said” (in a playful tone)
And she was, and it opened up a completely different channel for our conversation to go. And not only that, but an even more genuine and authentic direction than just surface level talk.
Here’s another example:
I recently saw someone very close to me with their new spouse. And I immediately noticed how stiff their body language was with each other. And also, a sense of disconnection between them.
Then, a day later, I heard all about the problems they were having and what was *really* going on with them.
And when you go into the space of what’s *really* going on with someone, that’s when your connections become 100x deeper.
And to put a whole another layer of nuance on this, you don’t always have to SAY anything in order for the other person to get that you get it. Silence can just as powerful as words.
Now, it’s time to practice:
How can you pay better attention to what someone isn’t communicating to you? What are their subtle signals actually telling you? (For example, you can pay closer attention to their body language, their face, or even a general feeling you’re getting from them)
Let me know what you’re going to try to do. This is such an important skill to cultivate, and you will be pleasantly surprised by what you discover.