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Getting Beyond "Fine"

Apr 25, 2020, 08:28 AM by Peggy Merrill

No matter where you get your information these days, you likely have seen text messages, social media posts, news reports and commercials that focus on the silver linings that have been created by the sheltering-in-place situation: More than ever, many of us now have the time, technology and space to connect with our families, relatives and friends.

And while that is a beautiful thing, I wonder if we are actually allowing for true connection. 

You probably are spending more time with your immediate family than ever before. You may have reached out to old friends. You have enthusiastically conversed in Facebook groups. You may have hosted more happy hours in the last six weeks than you did in all of 2019. 

But despite all that conversation, it can be difficult to get beyond the surface conversations that are considered acceptable in our culture.  

screen of computer with different faces

“How are you?” someone asks. 

“Fine,” you say. 

“Good, I have a lot to be grateful for,” you say.

“Oh, you know how it is,” you sigh. “At least we are all healthy.”

Now, there is nothing wrong with feeling grateful, with finding the silver lining or with having a generally positive outlook on life. But how do we open the door to dialog that goes beyond, “Great … all things considered”? 

How do we create space for the type of communication that fosters real connection and allows ourselves and others to feel supremely heard, seen and understood? How do we inspire the type of communication that can transcend 6 feet of social distancing and a face mask? 

Some days, authentic conversations can be all doom and gloom, and those conversations are just as valuable as the ones that are full of deep belly laughs, smiles that reach the corners of the eyes, private jokes, hopeful messages and loving acceptance. Authentic conversation can take on many forms — even in the same conversation. 

Though difficult to define, one thing is for sure: We all know when we have had a moment of true connection. It’s like your batteries are recharged, and your cup is filled. You feel heard and loved, and you have listened and supported. 

woman in stripped shirt video chatting on her laptop

Here are a few tips to help foster warm and loving conversations with those we deeply care about but may be struggling to connect with in a meaningful way: 

• Give the conversation a minute, let it get started, get through some small talk … and pause before jumping in with questions or responses. Get warmed up, and take a temperature check.

• Make sure you create space for conversation. Give your full attention to the person or persons you are with. Turn off the news, close down the laptop, make sure the rest of the family is busy or set aside your phone. 

• Humor offers an opportunity for delicious connection and stress relief. If you are naturally witty and fun, share your gift. Don’t feel guilty for enjoying moments of normalcy or coping through humor.

• Find a really good question. I don’t recommend asking 20 questions — find a really good question and follow that thread with the intent to really understand.

• When questions come your way, set the tone and stand as close to your truth as you possibly can as you answer the questions openly and honestly. There is no person you have to be, no brand to manage. You could be feeling salty, sad, irreverent, solemn or silly. You may have received a joyful surprise or terrible news. Your job is to be you.

• Share an enjoyable activity “virtual style” — games, walks and even movies can be shared virtually with a friend. Sometimes the best conversations happen on the fringes of another activity.

• Avoid using the phrase “you should.” Advice giving can, perhaps, be saved for another day. Listen, be empathetic and be a virtual shoulder to lean on.

• If you are feeling emotionally limited by the conversations of large virtual happy hours, take some time to reach out to one or two people with whom you can really emote or find that natural, easy connection. Sometimes it's quality over quantity.

• You may be spending hours and hours and more hours with your partner and kids. But are you taking time to have good old fashioned conversations with them? Are you asking them questions, working on connection and taking advantage of all those hours? Now is the time.

Happy chatting! Wishing you and yours many richly textured conversations and connections

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