3 Keys to Deeper, More Meaningful Conversations
3. Consider accessing "the museum effect."
Posted August 10, 2022 | Reviewed by Davia Sills
- Being a good conversationalist starts with sharpening your listening skills.
- People are often too quick to pull the plug on a conversation rather than giving it space to open up.
- Experiences that take people out of their everyday lives, like going to an art museum, can inspire deeper talks.
Having a good conversation is one of life’s underrated joys. How can we have more of them? Here are three research-backed suggestions from psychologists to help you improve your conversation skills.
1. Be a better listener.
In order to be a good conversationalist, being a good listener seems like a no-brainer. But is there a clear route to sharpening your listening skills?
Psychologists suggest that there is—and it has to do with cultivating more humility.
Specifically, work on building interpersonal humility by:
- Acknowledging others’ strengths and contributions
- Being open to feedback and constructive criticism
- Remaining oriented toward the needs of others
Poor listening, according to psychologist Michal Lehmann, can negatively impact the quality of relationships one builds with others.
“Not listening to our friends or significant others means knowing less about their lives and being less involved, affecting the quality of those relationships,” he says.
To be a good listener, Lehmann also urges you not to be afraid of silence. “People are often afraid or embarrassed by moments of silence during conversations,” he says. “Silent moments are essential for building a good conversation. Allow yourself to be silent, to enable the other to speak.”
2. Keep the ball rolling.
“People are often hesitant to set aside significant amounts of time for conversation because they’re concerned that they’ll run out of things to talk about and that their conversation will grow dull or awkward as a result,” says Dr. Micheal Kardas, a researcher at Northwestern University.
A study conducted by Kardas required pairs of strangers to have spoken conversations with each other. The researchers monitored the conversations and even paused them every few minutes to evaluate their status.
“After the first few minutes of conversation, people tended to indicate that they were enjoying themselves, but they also indicated that they thought they would run out of things to talk about as the conversation continued and that the conversation would become less enjoyable,” said Kardas.
But when participants were prompted to keep their conversation going, they found more material to talk about and enjoyed the remaining dialogue far more than they expected.
Kardas thus concluded that people are too quick to pull the plug on a good conversation—thinking, mistakenly, that conversations that last for more than a few minutes are perceived as boring by their conversation companion.
“The longer that a conversation lasts, the better people get to know each other and the more meaningful these conversations tend to become,” he says. “What these findings suggest to us is that people could allocate more time for conversations than they normally do, because they’re not likely to run out of things to say or to grow bored with the conversation as quickly as they might think.”
3. Expose yourself to art.
Psychologist Katherine Cotter swears by the positive effects that art exposure can have on your psychological well-being. Apart from improving our quality of life and reducing stress and cortisol levels, art museums can help us find and build community.
“Art museums are a space where people can feel connected and less isolated and can be used as a way to build community,” she says. “As many nations talk about an epidemic of loneliness, going to an art museum may be one way to help combat our feelings of loneliness and isolation.”
According to Cotter, there are two ways in which art exposure can lead to better conversations:
- We can experience something called “the museum effect” when visiting an art museum. When we enter a museum, we are able to enter into a state of heightened contemplation that allows us to reflect on ourselves, the communities to which we belong, and society more broadly. This state automatically primes us for deeper and more meaningful conversations.
- Art museums are unique spaces that, for most of us, we aren’t going to very frequently. When we do have the chance to visit a museum, it’s quite easy to feel transported and to set aside our day-to-day worries and just be present during that experience. We might lose track of time or find ourselves absorbed in a particular work during our visit. This may help us to shed our insecurities and keep a conversation going instead of cutting it short because of a fear of running out of things to talk about.
Good conversations are primarily about striking a healthy balance between giving and taking. Thinking that you have to either run the show or be a perpetual listener can lead to unfulfilling conversations. Perhaps the best advice is to take a deep breath, not overthink it, and dive in.
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