Has your time at work started to feel empty, like you’re simply going through the motions? You’re not alone—in these challenging times, stress, anxiety, and burnout are on the rise. This is especially true in the healthcare industry, where a recent survey found a shocking three-quarters of participants reported mental health struggles.
Most of us want work to feel meaningful. But can something that seems as trivial as small talk provide an opportunity to have a more rewarding work life? The answer is yes.
The American Psychological Association has found that most people wish they had more meaningful conversations in their daily lives. What’s more, behavioral science researchers have determined that the greater the number of personal and profound conversations a person has on a given day, the happier that person is on that day.
On the other hand, the kind of stale, empty discussions we all tend to have just to fill the silence provide no such benefit and can even be draining.
Having more meaningful interactions can boost your mental health, and help you be more productive, successful, and fulfilled. But where to begin? Keep these four tips in mind during your next awkward elevator ride.
1. Understand What ‘Meaningful’ Means
A conversation does not necessarily need to dive deep into life, purpose, and our place in the universe to be meaningful. Rather, a meaningful conversation on any topic is one in which all parties earnestly feel enriched, valued, and understood. This is easier said than done, of course, because for all parties to feel that way, there must be reciprocity. Each conversationalist must give and receive in equal measure. It’s a skill, like learning an instrument, and it can take some practice. For that reason, it may be a good idea to start small; even a conversation about the weather can become more meaningful if you are genuinely engaged, mindfully giving of your focus and attention, and willing to be changed by the other person.
To put it another way, you must be willing to learn something new from the conversation. That could mean you will discover information that will alter your worldview, or it could mean learning something about your co-worker that you can relate to or empathize with. Or it could even mean you will learn that it’s going to be raining during your drive home, and you should put the top up on your car! Whatever the case, a meaningful conversation should create value for everyone who is participating in it.
One way to begin pursuing this conversational state is to…
2. Listen to Hear
As G.K. Chesterton said, “there’s a lot of difference between listening and hearing.”
So often in conversation, we are simply waiting for our turn to speak, composing our next great pronouncement in our minds instead of being present for the other person who is talking. It’s natural, especially in a workplace setting, but if you want to have more meaningful conversations, you’ll need to get out of your head.
This doesn’t just mean listening with your ears, by the way. Many non-verbal cues are important parts of communication. Be attentive to body language and eye contact (both those of your conversational partner and your own).
It’s also important to focus emotionally, not just mentally. If you have negative feelings or something else on your mind, try to put it all to the side and give the other person your full attention. When it is your turn to speak, and you are asking for their attention, you’ll be glad for the connection you’ve established.
Now, when you speak, it is your opportunity to…
3. Shape Your Future Self with the ‘20-Second Rule’
The term “neuroplasticity” refers to the brain’s ability to reconfigure and reorganize its structures and functions based on experience. It was once thought by neuroscientists that this adaptability was only present during the brain’s sponge-like super-learning phases of childhood development. However, modern research has demonstrated that, although it lessens, a degree of plasticity remains all through adulthood.
That’s good news because it means the old saying rings true: The mind takes the shape it rests upon. The choices you make in a conversation retrain your brain over time, thus shaping your future self.
Here’s a framework I find helpful for making conversational choices: The ‘20-Second Rule.’ You don’t want to take over with a lengthy monologue. Instead, you want to thoughtfully select your words to add the most value to the conversation. So, try to say your piece in about twenty seconds, and then give your focus back to the listener.
4. Tend to Your Own Garden
As in many areas of life, being more present for meaningful conversations starts with tending your inner garden. Are you actively fostering compassion, confidence, and a mindset focused on continuous growth? Are you empowering yourself to strengthen your emotional intelligence, communication skills, and internal mental culture? Are you in touch with your short and long-term goals for the future?
All the above will help you apply these tips and have more meaningful conversations. If you’d like additional support, please get in touch with me. I’ve built my leadership, coaching, and advocacy services on my years of experience helping people like you on their journey of growth and enlightenment.