Everyone likes to think of themselves as a good listener and an even better conversationalist, but do you really “get” what people are saying during conversations? 

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Meaningful conversations are the key to a good relationship. From pillow talk to text exchanges, here’s how you can make the most out of every conversation.

What Did You Say?

If you want to build meaningful connections, you have to really listen to what others have to say. Nodding your head and repeating back a few points every now and then is not enough. You want to show that you’re making an effort to understand what someone is trying to convey. That means learning to listen actively, strive to grasp your partner’s point, and clarify anything that’s murky.

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After all, there’s more to being a good listener than silently waiting for your turn to speak. It’s obvious if all you’re doing is waiting for your next chance to talk—people notice. That, in turn, will make them less likely to share their real thoughts with you.

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An active listener creates a positive, sharing environment. Leave harsh judgments or passive aggression at the door, and instead focus on the other person; to engage, try offering feedback or suggestions throughout the discussion. Even if you don’t agree with the speaker, these tactics will help make the conversation worthwhile.

Keep It 100

You’ve heard this a million times, but it truly is one of the most important things you can do to connect with others: Just be yourself. When you’re true to yourself, you act in ways that are more likely to lead to real intimacy with others. People want to share more with those who seem genuine.

Even your laugh can give you away. A study conducted at UCLA found that fake or forced laughter only works about a third of the time. Researchers Gregory Bryant and C. Athena Aktipis recorded spontaneous and fake laughter, then asked the subjects to identify which ones were real.

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There are subtle acoustic differences between honest and phony laughs, and the researchers found the speed of the laughter made a difference in the subject’s perception. When fake laughter is sped up, people were more likely to guess it was real. However, participants were more likely to identify forced laughter when the audio was slowed down.

How Talking Can Lead To Happiness

Research finds that people who have deeper, intense conversations with others are happier than those who stick to small talk. Matthia Mehl, a psychologist at the University of Arizona, performed a study where he recorded 30-second bits of the daily audio of 79 college students over four days.

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The researchers divided bits of recorded dialogue into two categories: small talk and substantial conversation. When Mehl compared the data with the subject’s self-assessed happiness, he found the happiness people only engaged in small talk 10 percent of the time. The unhappiest subjects, meanwhile, stuck to small talk three times as often as their happier counterparts.

Mehl hopes to continue studying the effects of substantial conversations and overall mood. The researcher believes the correlation between deep discussions and happiness has to do with the human drive to create meaning in life, along with the need to make genuine connections with others.

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“By engaging in meaningful conversations, we manage to impose meaning on an otherwise pretty chaotic world,” Mehl told The New York Times blog Well. “And interpersonally, as you find this meaning, you bond with your interactive partner, and we know that interpersonal connection and integration is a core fundamental foundation of happiness.”

While Mehl’s study doesn’t definitively prove that talking with people will make you happier, it could be that happier people simply seek out meaningful conversations more frequently. Either way, Mehl’s work offers an interesting glance into the human psyche—and makes a great conversation starter.