As social beings we long for deep and intimate relationships, yet fewer than half of our everyday conversations are meaningful.
We struggle to have substantive and meaningful interactions and find ourselves engaging in small talk; we believe it is safe territory and others would not be so interested in our lives.
However, it is important that we address this, particularly as the pandemic begins to wane and we start to communicate more face-to-face.
Recent research within the field of social psychology shows that we rely heavily on small talk because we underestimate how much interest others have in our lives, and the enjoyment of a more meaningful conversation.
When a group of researchers looked at the depth of conversations between strangers, they found that those who had deeper discussions, asking questions such as "can you describe a time you cried in front of another person?" rather than "what do you think about the weather today?", significantly overestimated how awkward they thought their conversation would be.
They also underestimated the enjoyment they actually felt during their engagement, and had a stronger sense of connection with the other participants.
Deep and meaningful conversations increase our levels of wellbeing by strengthening social connections, easing stress and consequences of negative experiences, and help speed up the development of close relationships.
If deeper conversations are genuinely better, and we strive for such relationships, then we need to go beyond the small talk, particularly as we consider our conversations with clients.
Having meaningful conversations
Experienced clinical psychologists have provided tips on how to have conversations with clients. Although this advice relates to a more therapeutic relationship between a psychologist and client, it is very relevant for our industry and can be applied to have meaningful discussions with clients.
- Consider the purpose.
Have an agenda for your meetings and a purpose in mind, but do not heavily rely on an agenda, as this can prevent the client from being heard and fully understood.
- Be present.
Be 'in the room' with the client, giving them your attention. Although this room may now be virtual, it is important that your client feels you are genuinely interested in them, and that the time you have together is to focus on them and their goals.
- Listen and empathise.
Active listening is crucial; listening to understand instead of listening to merely respond, is the best approach to take. Allowing your clients to express how they feel, and then when responding, reflecting and summarising what they have said, demonstrates that you have heard them and helps them clarify their own view, and encourages them to share more.
- Ask open ended questions.
Avoid closed questions that lead to a yes or no response. Ask questions that are open ended, encouraging clients to elaborate on the points they have raised.