By Lucy Foulkes a psychologist and honorary lecturer at University College London.

Psyche Online Publication  Nov 2021

Key points – How to have more meaningful conversations

  • Many social exchanges involve only small talk, in which limited information is exchanged, and they can often feel frustrating and awkward.
  • But small talk is a social connector and is important in that role.
  • Once small talk is initiated, the conversation can transition to meaningful conversation in which we learn.
  • More desirable is meaningful conversation, in which you learn something interesting about yourself, your conversation partner or the world around you.
  • To have more meaningful conversations, it’s useful to see small talk as a warm-up, a necessary stepping-stone.
  • To move into better conversations more quickly, ask your partner open questions and follow-up questions, and really listen to their answers.
  • At the same time, dare to share more about yourself. It doesn’t have to be something really private – any level of self-disclosure can be a powerful way to feel closer to someone.
  • Be prepared to learn from your partner. In educational or work settings, this might involve a bit of advanced preparation, or simply an open mindset.
  • The magic of good conversations lies in the ‘reciprocity principle’, the give and take. Share with your partner and listen to them, and then they will do the same for you.
  • Meaningful conversations can happen with anyone. Pluck up the courage to talk to strangers – you might get more out of it than you think.

Lucy Foulkes is a psychologist and honorary lecturer at University College London. A former associate editor at Aeon+Psyche, she is the author of Losing Our Minds (2021). She lives in London.