How to Hold a Meaningful Conversation with Almost Anyone

It is difficult to hold a meaningful conversation these days. We are so used to the shorthand we use in texts and emails we have almost forgotten how to speak.

How often have you tried to hold a meaningful conversation with someone, and walked away wondering if you made your point, said what was needed, or said too much. Were you confident, or did you come across as boring?

a man and a woman holding cellphones and texting

The Meaningful Conversation vs The Cell Phone

One problem we have when we try to hold a meaningful conversation is the distraction of cell phones. Instead of turning them off when in what should be a conversational setting, we hold them in our hands as if they are a lifeline.

While you are talking, there may be a constant distraction of cell phone dings. During a gathering several years ago, the Country Boy and I noticed two guests whose eyes stayed glued to their phone. We, and several others tried to bring them into the conversation, to no avail.

The Vermont State Highway Office reported that texting is up almost 7,700%, with 560 billion texts being sent each month worldwide. There are times when I try to hold a meaningful conversation with someone that I feel at least half of that number is being sent to their phone!

Let’s face it. Having a meaningful conversation when cell phones are involved is next to impossible. Even if the person isn’t reading the texts, the constant dings are a distraction for both parties. No wonder we wonder about whether our conversations with others are meaningful!

Why is a Meaningful Conversation even Important?

Just the simple act of talking with someone gives you a feeling of connection. Even the shallowest conversations, such as discussing the weather, helps you to feel like you are a part of something, even if it is for only a few seconds.

But when you have a meaningful conversation, that connection is deepened, and takes on more value. It helps you to learn more about the other person, and in many cases can be the beginning of a strong bond.

Emily Cabral at Longwalks.com states: “If we neglect to have meaningful conversations, our relationships can begin to wither, and the more they wither, the more likely that these relationships will become damaged and eventually dissipate.”

an old woman in a blue sweatshirt holding and talking to a young girl in a smocked red dress

In social settings, a deeper, more meaningful conversation may not be possible due to the reason for the engagement (an office meeting or charitable function) but learning how to have a meaningful conversation with your friends, family, and even in community settings can mean the difference between true communication and missing out on what is important.

To help you out, follow these tips and learn how to have meaningful conversations at home. Once you feel comfortable, then it is easy enough to take the practices into those social situations and feel confident you can carry on a conversation with most anyone.

an older woman with gray hair in a red blouse talking to a woman with short blonde hair and a plaid shirt

Body Language

Have you ever had a conversation with someone whose eyes were everywhere but on you? It makes you feel a little bit like you are the most uninteresting person in the room. On the flip side, if you are standing in place, shoulders hunched, head down, you may appear to be afraid, timid, and unapproachable.

Body language is one of the first impressions people have about us. Our posture and facial expressions will determine our levels of approachability.

Being aware of the signals our body language is sending out is the first step towards having a meaningful conversation – and we don’t have to even speak the first word. When a family member enters a room to talk, they will know almost instantly if you are receptive. Turning your back on them and tensing up is a good indication you aren’t open to conversation.

However, if you stop what you are doing, turn towards them with a relaxed stance and an open expression, they will feel more comfortable in talking to you.

a black cow and a white-faced cow having a staring contest

When you speak to someone, always look them in the eye. This shows that you are interested in them and a participant in the conversation. By looking everywhere but at them, you may be silently telling them they are boring, or less than important.

Your posture should also be positive. You need to stand up straight. You don’t have to be rigid like a soldier, nor should you be hunched, as if in pain. Instead, adopt a relaxed posture, and one that reflects openness.

Be mindful of your facial expressions. Eye-rolling is often hard to control, especially when listening to something that seems over the top. It can also be construed as a rude gesture and could make the person you are talking to feel insecure, ridiculous, and less willing to talk.

Remember, every emotion you have will show on your face, your body language and in your eyes. Make sure you are saying the right thing – even when you haven’t spoken a single word.

a brownish gray mule looking over a fence and seems to be smiling

Pomp(ous) & Circumstance

We often associate Pomp and Circumstance to graduations. However, it is something that can be added to a meaningful conversation easily – only instead of Pomp, it is more Pompous. It is also called Pretentiousness.

Get rid of any affectations you may have. This is when your body language, manner of speech and behavior is designed solely to impress. It can often be considered arrogance and is one of the first things to cause a person to tune out what you are saying.

a beekeeper in a white bee suit observing a second beekeepr in hat, veil and orange tee shirt - a frame of bees in a hive

What to Say

Sometimes we hesitate to have meaningful conversations because we have no idea what to say.  One of the best ways to start a meaningful conversation is to ask an initial question. Try to make them open ended, so the answer won’t be a simple yes or no. Then listen to the response. From there, you can follow up with appropriate comments and follow-up questions.

Interject small responses, to indicate you are still following the conversation: ‘Oh, wow!’, ‘I can see how you felt that way’, or even nod in agreement.

Be easy with those compliments. Compliments need to be sincere, and not heaped up every other sentence. And they need to be specific. ‘You did a great job studying for your test this week. What was the hardest part when you finally were able to take it?’ ‘I love the way you handled that situation with grace. Care to share your secret?’

Stay on the subject until it is obviously time to change it. By staying on topic, you are showing interest. By constantly changing the subject, it leaves the person with a sense of confusion, and uncertainty as to what the conversation is about in the first place.

Avoid Criticism. There isn’t a single way to get someone to stop listening, or even walk away if all they hear from you is criticism. If it is necessary, make sure they know you are criticizing an action or deed, not the person themselves.

a woman in a black tee shirt laughing with her black and white cow - appears the cow is listening intently to the conversatiion

How to Listen

Many conversations can be casual, but still meaningful. Consider sitting down with a friend to catch up. You not only learn what they have been doing but may also gain a bit more insight to who they are, their likes and dislikes. But as in a letter or literature when you need to ‘read between the lines’, you may find that there is more being said ‘between the words’. 

Show interest. You can do this by keeping eye contact, maintaining positive body language, and asking questions.

Keep an open mind. Don’t be quick to judge. If someone feels they are being judged, they will change the subject and look for a way to escape. Keep in mind that in some cases, the judgment would be based on a matter of opinion, and not fact.

Don’t form a response while someone is talking – you may miss important details. We as humans have a bad habit of thinking what our response may be of the first words spoken. Instead of retreating to your mind for a quick rejoinder, your thoughts, or opinions, let them finish speaking. If necessary, you can respond with something like, “I hear what you are saying. Let me take a moment to process it.”

We often want to be empathetic, sympathetic or compassionate. But knowing which emotion to display can be tricky. Although they are similar, there are some slight differences.

Empathy is a shared experience. You have been there, done that, walked the same path, so you know what they are feeling. Sympathy means you haven’t shared the experience but understand the underlying emotion. Compassion tells them you cannot relate through your own experiences or understanding but are still willing to listen to help ease (or celebrate) the situation.

a young man with round glasses in a period blue vest with whit buttons and a white shirt with flowing sleeves

Have Balance

Balance in a meaningful conversation is delicate. You do not want to monopolize, but still want to contribute. A good rule of thumb is either 25/75, or 50/50.

With a 25/75 conversation, you do most of the listening. The 50/50 is equally balanced. The trick is to listen first and determine which one works best for the conversation at hand. And just be prepared – some conversations may require a 10/90 ratio – with you doing most of the listening.

You are not Shakespeare, so refrain from the ‘soliloquys’ – or monologues. One of the quickest ways to get folks to tune out is if the conversation is all about you.

Pause. During that pause, watch the other person’s facial expressions and body language. Look for understanding, agreement, genuine thoughts, or allow for an alternative point of view. If they show continued interest, then you can keep talking.

Get rid of excess explanations and fluff. Keep your topic on track. In other words, keep it short, simple, and to the point. Then allow for the other person to express their thoughts.

a black and white sheep peaking around the corner of a tin building

Learn

One of the best ways to have a meaningful conversation is to learn more about the person with whom you are conversing. Find out what subjects they are interested in and brush up on them. A great way to do this is to listen. In the process, you may learn something new and would like to try. Then express your interest and ask them to explain more.

a group of women of varying ages dressed casually of winter - a small young girl in a pink jacket, white shirt, and a blue ribbon in her hair

Other Tips

  • Be yourself
  • Be trustworthy (don’t repeat what you heard)
  • Don’t Badger
  • Do not interrupt
  • Don’t isolate others in a group setting (ease up on the ‘remember whens’ or subjects that only involve you and one or two others)
  • Don’t overshare
  • Respect privacy
  • DO NOT CORRECT THEIR GRAMMER

a wooden table holding a vintage coffee pot and plate of tea cakes - the elbows of two men leaning on the table

In Serious or Tense Situations

Sometimes our conversations require a more serious approach. There are also times when the situation becomes tense. First and foremost, it may be best to walk away from aggressive words or behavior. A response of any kind may just intensify the anger. Allow them time to cool off, and then readdress the subject, if needed.

If you are asked for your opinion or thoughts, be sure to think before you speak. And mind your tone of voice as well. When someone is emotional, often times they are looking for ways to erupt further or claim you don’t understand them at all (a normal teenage reaction). Stay calm. Keep focused. And be as soothing as possible with your responses.

It is also wise to not take sides. On one hand, it can backfire down the road once the crisis has passed. On the other hand, the person you are speaking with might feel ganged up on. Neither works well when you want to have a meaningful conversation.

a man in a tan jacket and overalls talking to a man in a plaid shirt and camoflauge ball cap

For a serious subject, you may be in for a long talk. Offer food or drink, such as iced tea, lemonade, or coffee, along with a plate of cookies. However, do not offer alcoholic beverages. These can do more harm than good, if consumed in large quantities.

Having food or drink on hand will allow for a small pause between words. It will give both parties a chance to think about what is said and give each of you a chance to consider appropriate responses.

Of course, having food and drink on hand isn’t just for serious conversations. Some of the most fun times I have had is by enjoying a meaningful conversation with a friend over a plate of fresh baked cookies and a glass of iced tea. (Just be careful not to drink or bite in right before the conversation elicits a laugh – then you have to clean up the mess!)

a man wearing a blue shirt and black hat having a meaningful conversation with a woman wearing a green shirt and holding a chicken

How to Do Your Part

Are you looking to have a meaningful conversation in almost any situation? Start with practice. Talk to yourself in a mirror or get a tape recorder. Watch your body language, and truly listen to your words, tone of voice, and speech patterns. Uncertainty and emotions are easily carried within your words.

If you still aren’t sure, ask a trusted friend or spouse. If you do make this approach, be prepared for any criticism. Listen to what they say and try to work on those problems.

The Country Boy and I were going to get feed, and we were talking about building new pens for the ducks and turkeys. After a lengthy pause, I thought we had finished that discussion, so I changed the subject to something else.

I noticed he was only half listening, and when he responded with more like a grunt, I stopped for a moment. Before I responded with ‘You aren’t listening to me’, I thought about it.  Then I realized. He and I have two different conversational styles. When I thought the pen discussion was finished, he was still on that subject in his mind – thinking things through. He isn’t a ‘jumper’ – he truly gives deep thought to what is being said.

I, on the other hand, am a ‘jumper’. I can jump from subject to subject, and still be able to come back to the original one. I now need to learn to ask him, ‘What else do you think about ________’ and be certain he is ready to move forward to the next subject, long before I jump.

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Having a Meaningful Conversation with Almost Anyone

Having a meaningful conversation with someone isn’t difficult, but it does take some skills. Remember, each person is different, and may require all the skills you learn, or just a few. With some people, talking just comes naturally – and those are the best.

Just learn to be yourself, really listen, mind your manners and your body language, and turn off that cell phone. Oh, and it never hurts to have that plate of cookies on hand. If nothing else, you can talk about which ones are your favorite, and why!

Julie Murphree is a blogger, newspaper columnist, and speaker on all things ‘Living a Simple Life on the Farm’. She is the author of \\\'The Farm Wife – Living a Simple Life on the Farm. She and her husband have 60 acres in NW Louisiana where they actively work on living as sustainable as possible.

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