We thought we left the awkwardness of pandemic etiquette behind when restrictions were lifted, and we could meet face to face again. Although it does feel great to connect with each other, many of us are feeling a little awkward greeting and talking to each other again in person. When you add the complexity of mask mandates, vaccines, school stress, and office changes, meaningful connection, and good communication becomes more daunting.
Humans need to connect and feel heard, but how do we do that without feeling interrogated or nervous about what we say. Practicing and preparing yourself for conversation is something many of you are already doing; you may find yourself rehearsing conversation or coming up with topics in the car. Here are some suggestions that can help you feel less awkward and more connected during conversations.
1. Embrace and value small talk. Small talk has been misconstrued to be superficial, but it can be meaningful in relationships. It involves listening to details about someone’s day and being able to commiserate with them. Small talk is the spark to long-lasting relationships because it builds rapport and trust. Short check-ins during the week are essential in keeping us connected right now.
2. Set an intention for the conversation. When you set an intention, it helps you avoid being distracted during the conversation. Is your intention to check on your friend’s mental health, physical wellbeing, or do you want to help them through a stage of grief? Whatever your intention is, let it unfold naturally. Creating a space that is safe for you each to open and confide in each other is good for your mental and physical health. We need to confide in each other, knowing we are not judged.
3. Slow down and ask open-ended questions without assuming or judging. Frequently we feel rushed in conversations, and we don’t hear what another is really is saying before we form an opinion and judgment. Slow yourself down by being curious and asking questions. When you consider another’s perspective it helps you understand why they feel the way they do, plus, when you ask open-ended questions, you switch the topic of discussion to another which takes the pressure off you.
4. Change the topic instead of ending the conversation. It’s human nature to get defensive if you feel uncomfortable with a topic being discussed. It’s especially stressful right now with so many painful and difficult divisions in the world. If you know ahead of time that you’ll steer clear of "hot" or sensitive topics, you can easily divert the conversation to something you both have in common. A conversation is a sharing of information between two people wanting to connect. Trying to win a point of view or "fix" someone who doesn’t agree with you is not the objective.
5. End the conversation on a positive note. I like to remember a quote (which has been attributed to multiple people) that helps motivate me to connect with purpose: "people won’t remember what you do, but they’ll remember how you made them feel." Leaving people feeling cared for is an intention that makes you feel better about being a human. We aren’t all supposed to agree with each other; however, we can be kind to each other, thoughtful, and polite.
Face-to-face conversation is more powerful and has more potential to hurt or heal than someone behind a screen. People don’t need to know my political views to connect to me; they need to know the little things that add meaning to my life.