Make the Most of Your Conversations (Highlighted Practice)

Paul SpurzemHighlighted Practice

This post is part of a series of highlighted practices from the Visionaria curriculum for “personal and civic development” classrooms in Peru.

Make the Most of Your Conversations

Communicating with family members and friends is more important than ever, and has begun to demand an increasing portion of our days — especially if you continue to perform essential work in the community. There are people you need to continue talking with, and others who will need to talk to you.

Practicing “active listening” can be a simple way to use your time connecting with others more effectively. It allows you to get to the root of a problem or emotion so you can talk through it more effectively (if that is your goal). Active Listening can turn tiring daily check-ins with family members into opportunities for you to to improve your communication skills — something to look forward to.

ADAPTED PRACTICE: Active Listening

5-10 minutes

  1. Know that when most people listen, they can get distracted by thinking about what they will say when the person finishes speaking. 
  2. To practice active listening, you set a goal to listen to the other person without interrupting them for 2-3 minutes and be able to summarize what it is you heard back to them. Some tips for doing this successfully include:
    • Use your body language to show that you care — stay focused on their conversation, avoid other distractions, be careful of your facial expressions, and give short verbal cues and nods that indicate that you are listening and are open to hear more. 
    • Continue to prompt your conversation with open ended questions that labels an idea or emotion you heard them say, starting with “It seems like…” or “It sounds like…” (Don’t be afraid to sit and wait to allow for time to think; You are not in a rush, your goal is to listen and learn). 
    • Do not rush to judge their feelings or give advice, try to show an understanding of their perspective even if you disagree. 
  3. AFTER you have listened and clarified and shown your understanding of what the person has to say, then you can move onto to any advice or problem-solving that seems appropriate.

MODIFIED PRACTICE: Specific Good Things

5 minutes

  1. Feel whether a conversation is no longer productive and is stuck in a pattern of negativity. 
  2. Suggest that you and the other person(s) take a few minutes to think and share “one good thing” that happened in the last 24 hours. 
  3. The only criteria is that it has to be very specific (“Lunch was good” is not good enough; Try for, “I liked the turkey sandwich I made for lunch and how it made me feel this afternoon”) 

NOTE: Thinking of a specific, positive thing about your day is a powerful way to train YOUR brain too. In a matter of days, writing just “3 good things” that happened can train your brain to see more good things around you. One study found that participants who wrote down three good things each day for a week were happier and less depressed at the one-month, three-month, and six-month follow-ups. Even after stopping the exercise, they remained significantly happier.