How do you make the dozens of interactions you have each day more meaningful for the other person? What can you do to make sure they remember your conversation as one of the brightest moments in their day?
This is something I feel incredibly ill-equipped to answer. But a recent conversation with a few friends exposed some interesting principles that I’ve tried to embrace lately. We were discussing some of the most meaningful conversations we’ve had in the past few years, attempting to pinpoint what made them valuable. After a while, we noticed a few common themes behind the interactions that were most meaningful and memorable for us.
Make Every Interaction More Meaningful and Memorable
Here are a few principles that are important to remember when you’re interacting with someone — whether it’s your co-workers, spouse, or the man working the front desk at the post office.
Remember that every person is bringing their own story to the interaction.
Every time you encounter a person, they’re not coming in as a blank slate. They’ve already experienced things that are impacting how they’re coming to a conversation. Whether it’s drama they’ve experienced that day or something from their past, it’s important to remember every person is in the middle of a story when they meet you.
Knowing this allows you to be more intentional with your interaction. Rather than engaging everyone in the same way, you can stop and consider the story a person might be bringing with them. Rather than getting frustrated at a co-worker that seems absent-minded, you can consider what other things might be impacting the way they’re engaging at work.
Be mindful of the directional pull of the conversation.
In almost every new interaction, you can immediately notice the direction the conversation is heading. In many ways, this pull sets the tone for the entire conversation. Some people are more serious. Others might be more playful or sarcastic.
Taking time to ask, “Where am I being pulled in this conversation?” provides some interesting opportunities to make the interaction more meaningful for them. Once you recognize the initial pull of the conversation, you can be more intentional about whether or not you take the conversation in a different direction.
For example, are there certain people you naturally overlook because of the posture they take during conversations? Recognizing this might inspire you to stop and ask, “What can I do to make this person feel known, valued, and appreciated?” You might determine now is not the best time to do anything specific, but being mindful of the directional pull of a conversation can open up new opportunities to change the course of someone’s day.
Don’t be afraid to say “No” or set boundaries.
Failing to set appropriate boundaries often leaves the other person in limbo. Setting boundaries in an interaction might seem unkind, but it’s the kindest thing you can do. If someone asks for a favor and you fail to set clear boundaries on your availability to help, they might feel burned if you fail to follow up on their request.
For example, let’s say you run into an old friend at the store and they ask you to get coffee. Most times, my initial response is, “Sure! I’d love that!” But then I get home & get overwhelmed with all the other responsibilities on my plate and never follow up with them. Setting the boundary on the front end by saying, “I’d love that, but can we do it a few months from now when things slow down?” is more helpful and meaningful to the other person than our typical auto-responder response.
Want to be transformed by the conversation just as much as you want to be right.
Do you approach every interaction with a desire to be right and justified in your decisions? Or do you approach interactions wanting to grow and develop as a person?
If we approach each interaction with the second posture, we stand a better chance of creating a meaningful experience than we would if we approach the interaction thinking we’ve got it all figured out. Wanting to relate and to be transformed is a game-changer in your ability to interact with another person. It also frees you from the need to be right all the time.
The key to creating meaningful interactions is this: we need to take our eyes off of ourselves and care about the other person. As we become more aware of others — and recognize the stories and experiences they bring to every interaction — we can be more intentional about how we engage them. This attention is what people ultimately desire — to be seen and heard.