One thing on my mind lately is a question about the meaningful conversations we sometimes have with friends, and what makes them different from other conversations. I started thinking about this while reading news articles about the Super Bowl played earlier this month.

Meaningful conversations and the Super Bowl don’t quite seem to fit together, but they do in my mind.  Keep listening and I’ll explain the connection in today’s episode, number 213.

Welcome to today’s episode

Maybe they’ve always done this, I don’t know, but it seems that sports journalists lately are using a new format to write about upcoming sporting events. It’s a pattern where the headline states a specific number of things to look for when one team plays another.

Take the recent Super Bowl from a few weeks ago, for example. “Five things to Watch for When the 49ers take on the Kansas City Chiefs” would be a common headline in news stories. Articles like this help the reader focus on specifics of the game coming up.

This makes me think what if we took the same news approach to analyze the conversations we have with the people close to us. I wonder what that would do to enhance our relationships.  Would it make for more meaningful conversations with the people close to us?

I’m going to try this out in today’s episode I’m calling  Five Things to Watch for in Your Next Conversation with a Friend

Here goes. First off, 

Notice if the topic of conversation with your friend is new or is it one that’s been repeated many times before? 

Assuming neither of you are suffering from Alzheimer’s, do you or your friend frequently cover the same ground you’ve gone over many times before? For example, does the topic of conversation drift once again to discussing your body’s aches and pains? My friend Robert calls these “organ recitals.” Or does it go to concern about wayward children? The state of our country or culture? Should I buy brown carpeting or grey carpeting? Things you’ve talked about many, many times before.

Why are some conversations with our friends like this? Is there nothing else on our minds? Are we that shallow?

I don’t think so.

My guess is that people who bring up the same topics over and over again are bound up by the unspoken emotions about those topics. No. 1 on the list would be fear, or one of its cousins, like anxiety. Sadness or regret would not be far behind. They are all close relatives.

We sometimes ruminate over things because we haven’t put words to what we’re feeling about those concerns.  Instead, what if we talked about the emotions riding on the backs of the topics we repeatedly bring up and see where the conversation goes? It will be a lot better than going in a never-ending circle we often go around in.

A second thing to look for that’s important to having meaningful conversations is to notice who does most of the talking.

Notice who does most of the talking 

There are certainly times where a conversation with a friend needs to be all about them. One person should have the floor for the entire time when they are dealing with a recent loss or some unexpected circumstance. But it shouldn’t be a pattern every time you talk.  

I have an extended family relative who is quite a charming extrovert that I only see at extended family gatherings like weddings and funerals. Everyone likes the guy. He holds court with all the relatives and goes on for what seems like hours talking about what’s going on in his life. We know all about him. He knows virtually nothing about the rest of us.

There’s no air time for a meaningful conversation with him. It’s always an interesting monologue from his lips, but there’s no back and forth dialog.

 You see the same thing in restaurants sometimes with small groups of people. One person dominates the conversation. And it’s usually someone who talks loudly so you can’t help but overhear what he or she is talking about. 

Many times If you look at the faces of those not talking in the group you’ll see blank stares.

In most meaningful conversations people take turns talking and listening. Some may talk more than others, but do they also listen at some point in the conversation? Is there give and take, or is one person giving a speech to an audience?

Here’s another thing to watch for in a conversation with friends.

Is the conversation more about the head or is it more about the heart?

Conversations about facts or events, or little things running around inside our brain, can be very meaningful. I’ve had quite a number of them in my lifetime that center on what I think as opposed to what  feel. I think of the conversation I had in my twenties with Vern who was twice my age, and the time I asked him what he thought about a career change I was considering. His simple, “I think you’d be good at that” changed my life.

Then there are the conversations about the heart. For example, there are two topics on the hearts of most Baby Boomers like me that don’t get talked about much. The first is Who’s going to take care of me in my old age when I can no longer care for myself? Who’s going to be there for me?  Single people think it’s more of an issue for them. But it isn’t. It’s on the mind of married couples just as much. Will my spouse be up to the task? And my kids, will I be able to count on them?

Another important heart topic

Related to this issue is the second heart topic, Will I run out of money at the end of my life, and if so, what do I do then?

As helpful as conversations can be that come from our heads, those that come from our hearts do a better job of bringing us closer together with each other. 

Inasmuch as we have control of a conversation, we do ourselves a favor when we look for and discuss the emotional aspects surrounding the issues of life. Like baby boomers talking about their worries of who’s going to care for me. Who can I trust at the end of my life? Regrets for not saving as much as I could have, or not being able to save anything earlier for my later years.

Here’s another thing to watch for in our conversation with friends.

Be mindful of how many times the topic of conversation changes 

The more topics brought up in a conversation, the less listening is going on. Talking a little about many things is not nearly as life-giving as talking at length about one subject. 

The “Let’s talk about everything” approach hijacks a conversation by using what someone is talking about as a springboard to share one’s own related experience. For example, if Monica talks about the great vacation she had visiting the Grand Canyon, and Alyssa jumps in with “I was there too, about seven years ago with my family. The best part for me on that trip was….”  Yeah, that’s not good. We’ve gone from Monica having the floor to Alyssa taking it away from her.

To keep the topics of conversation to a minimum, notice if people are asking questions, especially follow-up questions. This tends to keep interactions focused. It’s all part of good listening and people refraining from sharing every thought that pops into their heads.

Finally, watch for how the conversation ends.

Notice how the conversation ends

As a conversation begins to wind down, do you end up wanting more, or are you glad to can move on to other things?  Janet and I were at a Bible study recently and during a break in the study, we were in conversation with a friend who brought up a podcast she was listening to from John Eldridge. She was talking about how men and women look at Valentine’s Day differently and how Eldridge had a panel of men sharing their views. She was quite interested in the male perspective and how it compared to her own. But then our break ended and we had to return to the Bible study.

But I wanted to know more. I think every meaningful conversation ends with some form of “I want to know more.” 

Boring conversations, however, often end with, “Thank goodness that’s over.”

What to do next

So there you have it , five things to watch for in your next conversation with friends. When we get good at noticing the things I’ve mentioned, there are steps we can take to make for more meaningful conversations.

Quickly, here they are:

  1. Don’t bring up something you’ve talked about many times before because you haven’t dealt with the emotions about the issue. Don’t be an airplane circling the airport for hours on end. Land the plane.
  1. Let the other person speak. Don’t be the one who does all the talking. Drop the monologue. Get others engaged. Ask questions. Follow-up questions. 
  1. Comment on the feelings connected  with the head issues in your interaction. Talk about the emotion. It will make for a more meaningful conversation. What’s on our heart is really important. Don’t ignore it.
  1. Stick to one issue in a conversation as long as possible. Don’t change the subject.  Keep the spotlight on the other person. Let them have the floor. They may need to talk more to process what’s on their heart. Stick to one topic. Your turn will come later.
  1. Leave people wanting more. Be intriguing to others. Bring up topics or make statements that engage others. Do what you can to make for a meaningful conversation that others don’t want to see end.

Well that’s about it for today. I have links at the bottom of the show notes to past episodes related to today’s topic.  I’d love to hear any thoughts you have about today’s episode. I hope your thinking was stimulated by today’s show, to watch for the things you can do to create more meaningful conversations with the people close to you.

Because when you do, it will help you experience the joy of relationships God desires for you. Because after all, You Were Made for This.

As we wrap things up now,  don’t forget to spread a little relational sunshine around the people you meet this week. Spark some joy for them.  And I’ll see you again next time. Goodbye for now.

Other episodes or resources related to today’s shows

021: The Most Important Relationship of All

067: Self-Monitoring How We Listen

094: Self-Awareness Deepens Our Relationships

115: Become More Self-Aware in 2021

Latest prior episode

212: Little Things We Do Matter the Most to People

All past and future episodes

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