Meaningful work goes a long way when it comes to helping you feel like you have real purpose in life. But connections matter along the way, too, and those rely on deep conversations. And all truly meaningful conversations have the same eight characteristics.
1. Open-ended questions
Open-ended questions create meaning in conversation because they force the respondent to go beyond a "yes" or "no" into what they really think, feel or need. They ensure that you as the listener learn something about the person who's talking.
When you show vulnerability to a conversation partner, you send them the message that it is all right for them to be authentic, just like you are. They realize that you are ready to interact on a more intimate level. And since they can see more clearly that you're taking a chance and that you're not a threat, they usually let down their guard and reciprocate.
If you are distracted during a conversation or your attention wanders to something else, your listener feels devalued. This makes them shut down and put defenses back up. Conversely, putting your listener at the center confirms that they are important. It helps them feel confident enough to share more intimate thoughts.
One of the most basic things anyone wants is to know that they fit into a group. They essentially figure out where they belong by determining who can be empathetic and who can't. If you show your listener that you understand or have had similar experiences, it will help them feel like an insider and encourage them to continue sharing on an even more personal level.
Bringing up relevant things that the listener has told you in the past shows that you took what they shared with you before to heart. It promotes the idea that you now have a shared experience and are continuing to build on it, and that you cared enough not to forget. The background also helps you and your listener both interpret new information with much greater accuracy. You spend most of the time actively building trust, rather than clarifying what you meant.
6. Active listening
Most people struggle to be mentally quiet as another person talks. They listen to answer, formulating responses before the other person has even finished, rather than listening to learn. We do this, frankly, because we want to impress and don't want to look stupid. But active listening guarantees that the speaker can feel safe enough to conclude their entire idea. It prevents misinterpretation so that everyone can leave with a sense of being on the same page.
7. Good timing
Some points of the day are better than others for talking. If your partner is worried, stressed or tired, they'll have a much harder time concentrating on and fully processing what you're saying. That can lead them to take what you say the wrong way, share what doesn't really relate, or even cut the conversation off entirely.
Offering a rationale for your opinions helps your listener better understand not only what you think, but how. And once your listener knows what your rationale is and that you're not just trying to cut them down, the door is open for a more robust but civil debate.
If you look back at this list, you'll notice that all of these conversation characteristics all serve the same purpose--they validate the person you're talking to. If you can go through your talk with that single objective in the fore of your mind, you and your partner will find it easy to go beyond the superficial and build the tight bond you're after.