How to Have Deeper, More Intimate Conversations

In a time of disconnection, deep conversations can make all the difference.

David Brooks, the opinion columnist for The New York Times, wrote an article last month titled “Mental Health in the Age of the Coronavirus,” describing how the anxiety and isolation of the pandemic were impacting everyone in some way. He quoted Bonnie Badenoch, an expert in trauma, who felt one antidote to this stress was a need to have “deep reciprocal attunement (with others) that makes you feel viscerally safe,” and Martha Welch, a professor at Columbia University, who stressed the need to connect with others by having “vulnerable,” deep conversations. 

Deep conversations may be an important way to connect with those we care about in these difficult times, but they are always a good idea. They are the foundation of strong intimate relationships — those “we talked all night” conversations when dating, or those seemingly rare but cherished, heartfelt times when you lowered your guard and spoke from your heart with someone you trust. They connect you to the human race, to those important in your life, in some way to yourself.

Good idea, but often easier said than done. Here are some tips of going deeper into your conversations:

Make sure it’s a good time to talk

This is a matter of logistics. It’s hard to have a deep conversation when someone is on their cell phone driving to the grocery store or when they are trying to get their three kids to bed. These times are for quick check-ins — how-you-doing, catch-you-later speed conversations. For those deeper conversations you need time; find out if the other person has some. Simple question: Is this a good time to talk?

Set the tone

Because you’re the one initiating this, you need to be the one to set the tone, the one to let the other person know that you’re interested in having more than a how-you-doing check-in. There are two ways of doing this.

One is to set the tone by talking about yourself more deeply than you usually do. You want to move beyond the standard, “I’m good,” to more honest statements about how you are really doing – I’ve been feeling down lately; I don’t know about you, but my kids are driving me crazy; I had been doing okay until Tom and I had this argument last night. This is about self-disclosure and revealing more of you and your feelings. With this introduction, you are letting the other person know what kind of conversation you want to have, what emotional level you are comfortable talking about. You can then turn the conversation towards them.

The other approach is to ask hard questions at the start: Not the “Doing okay?” but “Have you been having a hard time?” “Have you been feeling depressed or worried?” “Are your kids driving you crazy or struggling?” People only know what is safe to talk about based on what you talk about and what you ask. By drilling down into specific, more emotionally difficult conversations, you are letting the other person know that you are ready to hear what they have to say, that you are ready to go there.

Ask about details

Good therapists do this instinctively. They try to move from broad statements (“I’ve been feeling anxious“) to the details: What about, what thoughts have you had, how do you talk to yourself? You don’t need to be a therapist and try to deconstruct the other person’s psychology, but you want to ask about details (about an argument they had or about how the kids are driving them crazy) because emotions ride on content. Broad questions yield broad, bland emotions; detailed questions stir deeper, more poignant feelings. And expressing these deeper emotions and having them accepted glues people together.

Give space between emotions

And when these emotions arise, you only need to acknowledge them (“That must have been hurtful; that sounds so frustrating”) and then stop and be silent. This can be hard—our instincts are to repair, to fix, to make it better by saying the right thing right then to calm the waters. Don’t. Take a few deep breaths, allow room for you both to absorb what has been said (or for them to finish ranting or crying).

Slow down, focus on them

In the same vein, you want to slow the conversation overall. Move through the conversation like a turtle, not a jackrabbit. Keep the focus on them, give them the room and attention they need, and resist using their stories as launchpads to talk about your own. Only when they are done is it time to turn the conversation towards you.  

Take risks

You know if you are moving into more vulnerable and intimate territory if what you want to say makes you feel uncomfortable, you get those butterflies of anxiety. Intimacy is not about disclosing some big, dark secret, but saying anything that is, for you, difficult to say. Take that risk for yourself, and listen for it in the other person. They may say “I’ve never said this before or thought about this before,” or there may be a hesitation or an unfinished sentence and a sigh. Ask them to finish the sentence. Give them space to say what is hard to say. 

Use your anxiety as a sign that you are emotionally plowing new ground. Go deeper to connect.

Communicating in High Context vs. Low Context Cultures

How people communicate with one another varies wildly from culture to culture. In our fully globalized times, it is more important than ever to understand these differences and where they come from. One way to reach such an understanding is through the high and low context culture framework, developed by anthropologist Edward T. Hall.

In 1976, Hall proposed that cultures can be divided into two categories—high context and low context. The concept has been a popular frame of reference since its introduction 40 years ago, and is used as a training tool to this day.

WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENCES?

The differentiation between high and low context cultures is meant to highlight differences in how cultures communicate. High-context cultures will use communication that focuses on underlying context, meaning, and tone in the message, and not just the words themselves.

Countries that fall into this categorization are Japan, China, France, Spain, Brazil, and more.

On the flipside, low-context cultures expect communications to be explicitly stated so that there’s no risk of confusion, and if a message isn’t clear enough, it will slow down the process of communication. In the most extreme cases, leaving any sort of wiggle room for interpretation can be disastrous.

Some of the cultures that fall into low-context communication are Western cultures like the UK, Australia and the United States.

HIGH CONTEXT VS. LOW CONTEXT CULTURE CHARACTERISTICS

Cultures typically can’t be organized strictly into either high or low context. Most cultures fall between the extremes on the spectrum and can share characteristics of both high and low context traits to varying degrees.

Although it can be a complex characteristic whether a culture is high context or low context, it can determine many other aspects of a particular culture. For example, in a high-context culture similarity is an important characteristic. This is because the majority of the population in high context cultures typically have the same level of education, as well as a shared ethnicity, religion, and history.

Through these shared experiences, messages can be contextualized by assuming an audience will think in the same way and follow the underlying message implicit in someone’s speech or writing.

In low-context cultures, the opposite is true. They are usually diverse, and focus on the individual, instead of the group. Since there are so many differences within a low-context culture, communication must be basic enough to allow for as many people to understand it as possible.

FORMS OF COMMUNICATION

Just as communication in general is different for high and low context cultures, the forms of communication also change, including the types of media that they enjoy. In today’s fast-paced digital age, these forms can shift, but underlying preferences stay the same.

Generally, high-context cultures prefer oral communications, while low-context cultures favor written communications.

When it comes to emails, texts, and online messaging, low-context cultures use it to fire off quick, frequent messages. Low-context cultures also want these communications to revolve around basic questions, like:

  • What’s happening?
  • Where’s it happening?
  • When’s it going to happen?
  • How’s it going to happen?

Of course, high-context cultures will tend to move in the other direction, with a focus on longer forms of communication that don’t always focus on basic questions.

COMMUNICATING IN INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS

Clearly, it’s important for a multinational organization to know the difference between high and low context cultures. A full understanding of these differences will effectively improve both outward, client-focused communication as well as inter-business relationships.

Will a company in Japan appreciate your attempts to get right to the point? Will a German company become bored if you talk around a subject, instead of directly addressing it? Know your audience and their cultural standing, and your message will never get lost.

7 Signs Your Personality Is Intimidating Others

Have you ever suspected that your friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and even close family members are blindsided by the sheer strength of your personality?

If you are the kind of person who knows their own mind, always sees their plans through, and doesn’t believe in following the herd, other people might find you somewhat intimidating!

Do any of these signs sound familiar?

If so, you probably earn the respect of others – but they may also be a little bit scared on occasion!

1. You Read Other People Quickly

Your intuitive abilities are strong, and you form accurate impressions of people within seconds of meeting them.

Dishonest, ignorant, and bigoted people can’t hide their true nature from you – and this makes them nervous.

You aren’t afraid to call out bad behavior when you see it, and are quite capable of putting obnoxious individuals in their place.

2. You get straight to the point

Have you often been told that you are “too blunt” or even “too honest”?

If so, your personality might be intimidating to those around you!

Whilst most people like to ease into a conversation with small talk, this isn’t your preferred approach.

You’d much rather focus on big, important, or even abstract issues rather than what you had for lunch, the latest celebrity gossip, or your next-door neighbor’s vacation plans.

3. You Often Find Yourself In The Minority

You don’t conform just to meet the expectations of others, and you don’t go along with their requests if they don’t sit with your values.

Because you pride yourself on being an independent thinker, it’s likely that you are alone in your opinions from time to time.

People with low self-confidence find you intimidating because they can’t understand what it’s like to validate yourself instead of looking to others for approval.

You’ll also be unsurprised to learn that unintelligent people also find it uncomfortable to be around you, because they soon realize that your IQ far exceeds their own.

4. You Don’t Make – Or Accept – Excuses

You don’t whine about your circumstances and you don’t see yourself as a victim, even if everything is collapsing around you.

There is no place in your life for people who moan and complain.

When you set a goal, you pursue it with vigor and do not tolerate laziness and procrastination.

Although you can be tender-hearted and kind, your willpower can make you appear resilient and tough, which can be intimidating.

It’s not that you lack sympathy for those going through a hard time, just that you have no patience for people who would rather wallow in their own misery than take action.

5. You Aren’t Jealous

For you, it doesn’t matter what other people have.

You know that their money, jobs, or status doesn’t affect your own chances of success, so you don’t waste your time feeling jealous.

When you congratulate someone on their accomplishments, you truly mean it, without a trace of malice or envy.

Your ability to focus on your own goals and destiny can surprise others, particularly if they happen to be envious or bitter themselves.

6. You Love New Opportunities

Lots of people prefer to stay in their comfort zone, but this isn’t an option as far as you’re concerned.

For you, life is about exploring new ideas and making the best of opportunities you have been given.

In fact, you even see problems or setbacks as blessings in disguise!

You aren’t a starry-eyed optimist, but you have an amazing ability to review a situation from multiple perspectives and try several approaches when solving a problem.

What’s more, you aren’t easily discouraged.

If one solution doesn’t work, you just pick yourself back up and try a new tactic.

7. You Find It Hard To Tolerate Stupid

Your open-minded attitude and capacity for critical thinking means that stupid or ignorant people really get on your nerves.

Perhaps you sometimes catch yourself thinking, “Why don’t they just read a book once in a while?” or “There’s no excuse for being that ignorant!”

Although you are usually polite and patient, you have no desire to spend any more time than is absolutely necessary with those who can’t understand high-level concepts.

Is an intimidating personality a blessing or a curse?

Sometimes, you might scare away potential friends and partners just by being yourself.

On the other hand, those brave enough to stick around and get to know you will come to appreciate your intelligence, honesty, and unique perspective on the world.

Because you are willing to meet lots of new people there’s a good chance that you will find your tribe sooner or later, even if it takes time to find friends who are capable of keeping up with your incredible mind.

Embrace your intimidating personality! Your proactive, strong-willed nature will set you up for success in every area of your life.

I Don’t Like You, and I Don’t Know Why

Introverts and extroverts may find themselves at odds when they first meet.

Alain Lacroix/123RF

Have you ever met someone for the first time and thought, “I don’t like you, and I don’t know why?” The answer could be simple as you are an introvert and the person you just met is an extrovert. Introverts may view extroverts as arrogant, overconfident, brash, and pushy. Extroverts, on the other hand, may see introverts as quiet, nerdy, insecure, and socially inept. Such a tendency can serve as a filter through which a person’s future words and actions are judged.

People like others who share the same attitudes and perspectives as they do. Since introverts and extroverts have different perspectives, they view each other as different and thus might be naturally predisposed to dislike one another when they first meet. Extroverts focus on the outside world, while introverts have a greater tendency to be introspective. Introverts typically begin their day with fully charged social batteries, but social interactions drain them. When their batteries are drained, introverts withdraw into themselves to recharge.

The differences in their worldviews can cause social discomfort. Introverts are less likely to outwardly express their feelings. Consequently, the frustration caused by the actions of extroverts can build up over time. When the pent-up frustration reaches a certain point, the frustrated introvert may explode with a litany of past transgressions. Extroverts are often caught off guard.

Why do extroverts frustrate introverts? What they think, they say, and sometimes what they say offends others. Introverts think before they speak and don’t understand how someone could say something without first thinking about what they say. Extroverts finish other people’s sentences. Introverts think before they speak and often pause between thoughts to plan the next thing they want to say. Extroverts see the pause in the conversation, finish the other person’s sentence, and continue the conversation, leaving the introvert frustrated and unheard.

Changing negative first impressions is difficult. A person who forms a negative impression of another will be less inclined to meet that person a second time, because that person has been judged in a negative light. Without subsequent meetings, the person who has been judged negatively does not have an opportunity to change the mind of the person who judged them.

Additionally, once a first impression is formed, people are less likely to change their minds due to the psychological principle of consistency. When a person articulates an idea, they are less likely to change their minds because they must first admit that they were initially wrong. Maintaining an erroneous notion, such as a first impression, causes less anxiety than admitting an error and adopting another position.

Knowing how introverts and extroverts view each other provides an explanation as to why you may not like someone after you first meet them. Knowing why a person may not like you will help you adjust your communication style to foster good relationships in business and social settings.