How To Have Better Conversations (And Not Talk About The Coronavirus)
It's safe to say we could've used a lesson in Conversations 101 before the onslaught of COVID-19. With a hefty amount of distractions and instant gratification, having a good conversation with someone face-to-face was difficult way before social distancing came into the picture.
But with the global pandemic upon us, it has become even more difficult not to let the coronavirus dominate the discussion, which (I say from experience) can lead to increased anxiety, frustration, sometimes even resentment toward the folks that bring it up.
That's not to say we shouldn't talk about it, but discussing other topics once in a while can be good for the soul. Plus, socializing with friends is a great way to keep your spirits high during this time (and, as it turns out, supports your immune system). Here's how we can have better conversations, without the coronavirus taking control:
1. Don't look at your phone.
Well, unless you have to. If you're FaceTiming a friend, that's one thing, but make an effort not to scroll through Instagram while you're chatting. And if you're video chatting on the computer, make sure to keep the phone out of reach.
A simple request, but it can be quite difficult—especially if a ping from a trusty news source seems like it's begging you to check the latest coronavirus update. Just for this moment, be present in the conversation at hand.
"The vast majority of people admit to checking their phone while they're talking with friends and family," communications expert and award-winning journalist Celeste Headlee says on the mindbodygreen podcast. "That's a big nope."
2. Don't be a conversational narcissist.
Yes, it's a thing. "There are ways that we become narcissists in our conversations, by constantly shifting the focus back to ourselves," Headlee explains. "If you think of it in terms of camera work, it's as though we're in a movie together and I'm constantly pulling the camera back to my face."
We might not even realize it, but sometimes we tend to quite literally hog a conversation. We're so focused on establishing our own identities and personal brands that we can lose what it means to truly converse—it should be a back-and-forth exchange.
The key here is to cultivate curiosity about the other person. Rather than turning the attention back toward you, become curious about the other and ask follow-up questions. It makes the conversation have a healthy flow (and will probably keep your friendship strong as well).
"People have unbelievable stories to tell you, and you're missing it because you're telling your own story," Headlee adds.
3. Don't stress about awkward silences.
Ah, the dreaded awkward silence. It may seem strange, but Headlee suggests embracing the silence rather than trying to fill it with conversation fluff (which in this case can quickly float over to the topic of coronavirus).
In fact, she thinks that awkward silences aren't as awkward as you might think. She says with a laugh, "You are not as awkward as you think you are. People enjoy your conversation more than you realize."
The reason you don't realize, again, brings us back to the conversational narcissist point: You're probably only thinking about yourself. You might be thinking, "Wait, was that funny? Was it stupid? Why are they looking off in the other direction?" instead of just enjoying another person's company.
So yes, you may feel awkward—but chances are the other person has no idea the turmoil going on in your head after you cracked a lackluster joke.
While there's not much we can control these days, let's keep COVID-19 from taking control of our social interactions. Here's to having better conversations at your next virtual happy hour.