Here’s a very sad sight that most of us have probably observed: two people sitting together at a dinner table, glued to their phones instead of each other. If there’s a better picture for the wedge technology is driving into our personal interaction, I haven’t seen it.
But let’s be real. Some of us have been those people.
In an era where we have more screens than people in our homes, we have nearly lost the art of having a good old-fashioned face-to-face conversation. And it’s costing us.
A study by the social network Badoo showed that 39 percent of Americans spend more time interacting with others online than they do in real life, and 31 percent of those surveyed also confessed that they were lonely.
Sometimes manifesting Jesus’ love is as simple as engaging in a meaningful conversation, whether it is a stranger you are placed next to at a wedding reception or your best friend. Here are five steps that will help you facilitate a conversation that can leave you both feeling socially satisfied.
Put Away Your Phone
Put away the smartphone, the laptop and the iPod. There is nothing worse than trying to talk to a person who is distracted by a screen. If you want to really hear what the other person is saying, you must eliminate the noise around you. This allows you to focus on the person you are talking to, showing them that you think they are important and, for the time being, the center of your attention.
Ask the Sort of Questions You Wish Someone Would Ask You
Trade in questions like, “Did you have a good day?” for “What surprised you today?” or “What was the best moment of your day?” Try to form questions around the other person’s interests and experiences—people are more likely to talk about what is important to them than what is important to you. And don’t be afraid of getting personal by asking questions such as “How do you feel about that?” and “How has that affected you?” Pointed questions about their thoughts and feelings will deepen the conversation and show them that you have a real interest in who they are, not just what they do.
Listen With Purpose
It’s not good enough to turn on your ears when you are talking with someone—you have to turn on your brain. If their face brightens and they smile, they are interested in the topic they are discussing. Utilize their enthusiasm by asking follow-up questions on that subject. If they look down or frown, you are probably treading on inappropriate territory. Be aware of your own body language as well. Leaning forward shows that you are interested in what is being said. Leaning back shows that you are evaluating what is being said.
Also, keep this in mind: it is appropriate for the speaker to look away while talking, but when you, the listener, looks away, it sends a subliminal signal that you don’t care about what they are saying.
Validate and Restate
Counselors are trained to validate and restate the comments made by their clients. This practice helps the individual feel understood and it also can prevent miscommunication. Affirmative responses such as “I love that, too!”, “I totally would have done the same thing” or “yeah, it makes sense that you would feel that way,” show the speaker that you are meeting them at their level.
Restating is the practice of summarizing what the person said in your own words. Responding to someone with, “So what I’m hearing you say …” shows that you were listening and confirms that you are seeking to understand the speaker. It also provides an opportunity for clarification if you are confused about what they are saying.
Offer Your Personal Experience
Don’t forget that it takes two to interact. Although you may be the one initiating the conversation, it is important to let the other individual know about you. They will appreciate your willingness to be open with them. As you are listening, think of any of your own thoughts or experiences that may connect to the subject at hand. When there is a pause in conversation, share about yourself—the other person wants to know you, too. You may be surprised about how much you discover about each other. And that will result in both of you feeling far from lonely.
Kristin Jones lives with her husband and cats outside of Philadelphia, PA where she teaches and attends grad school. You can keep up with her at her blog.