Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


6 Conversation Habits That Lead to More Meaningful Connection

3. Validate their experience and emotions.

Key points

  • Listening well involves an effort to attend to, understand, and validate others.
  • Sharing about ourselves, highlighting common ground, and expressing appropriate affection are also shown to endear us to one another.
  • There is no such thing as a perfect social interaction, so it helps to embrace awkwardness.
Source: Rushay/Shutterstock

In a previous post, I wrote about six common responses in conversation that can disrupt moments of meaningful connection. In this post, I’ll focus on six things that we can do to help our conversations result in a sense of shared connection.

1. Listen with full attention.

Studies show that the quality of attention we bring to a conversation as a listener matters to social connection. Doing your best to keep a solid focus on what another person is sharing not only helps you understand them well, but communicates to them that you care.

Of course, not everyone’s mind pays attention in the same way, and we all get distracted. If you notice your mind wandering during a conversation—perhaps to what you might say next—it’s okay to let others know and ask them to repeat something. It can be useful to refrain from multitasking and to put our phones out of sight when people open up to us about things that matter to them. We can even delay an important conversation to a time and place that is less distracting.

2. Listen to understand their perspective.

When people feel deeply seen and heard, it likely means others have listened to the feelings they've expressed, and the parts of what they shared that are most important to them; they don't just feel like we get the meaning of their words, they feel like we've understood something about them at a core level. We don't need to deny our own perspective to listen in this way; we just need to make room in our minds to hear their perspective, too.

We often take for granted that we understand what others mean when they speak with us, and yet humans are generally not as good at mind-reading as we think—it's easy to mistake our own assumptions for another's perspective. It can therefore be a useful practice to ask for clarification and check in to make sure you're on the same page: “I want to circle back to make sure I understand what you meant when you said…”.

3. Validate their experience and emotions.

Validation means showing someone that you take their perspective seriously and respect the meaning they've made about their own experiences. This is especially important when someone discloses something personal and emotional. Even if you can’t totally relate to their experience, in most cases you can validate that you understand how they would feel the way they do, thereby honoring their emotional experience.

Simple statements like "It makes so much sense that you feel that way" can go a long way toward building trust and connection. You can always follow that up by discussing different interpretations of events if that is relevant to the conversation.

4. Share your own experiences.

Opening up about our own personal and even emotional experiences endears us to one another. Psychologists call this self-disclosure, and have known for a long time that sharing about ourselves to the extent appropriate to a situation builds liking, closeness, and trust. Studies even show that we like people more when they are visibly stressed out.

Self-disclosure can also be a method for validating others’ experiences, letting them know that they are not alone in feeling the way they feel. The trick to self-disclosure is being mindful of discerning either what you feel comfortable sharing in the particular situation, or what you feel is important to share even if it feels vulnerable to do so.

5. Highlight common ground.

Research shows that we tend to feel connected with others when we can see they share our reality to some extent—for example, having similar thoughts, beliefs, opinions, feelings, worldviews, or identities as we do. Acknowledge when you notice that you and another person have similar experiences or interests.

This certainly doesn’t mean you need to feel the same about everything or agree with them inauthentically. But making it clear that you have something in common can help build a stable bridge between you so you can more easily discuss those things about which you don’t see eye to eye.

6. Express affection, gratitude, and celebration.

When you feel positively about someone, let them know! Affection is powerful in all kinds of relationships. Displays of affection appropriate to your degree of closeness with someone may range from high fives to hugs, from offering a passing compliment to sharing a heartfelt "I love you."

Let others know when they’ve shared something in conversation that you find interesting or brings you joy—and don't hold back laughter if they've made a good joke. Expressing gratitude for others' kindnesses, or congratulating them when they share good news about their own lives also have research-backed benefits.

Embrace Awkwardness

Conversations don't always go smoothly, and that's okay; there’s no such thing as a perfect conversation. We may get distracted, talk over one another, or just not click at a given moment for any number of reasons.

When things get a little awkward or off-kilter, it can actually build trust and connection to experience moving through that misalignment together and getting back on track. Learning to navigate moments of awkwardness together, in any kind of relationship, shows that you're willing to hang in there when you both feel uncomfortable, even if it's not easy.

Facebook/LinkedIn image: Lomb/Shutterstock

More from Dave Smallen Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today