One of the best things about the holidays is having the time to come together and connect. But often, this connection remains surface level. Martin Vera, a leadership and life coach based in London, UK, says that when we reunite with people we don’t see very often, we tend to gravitate toward small talk because it feels safe.
Small talk has its time and place: research shows that fleeting social interactions with people, even strangers, can boost moods and our faith in humankind. But a night of rotating through a room to recount the same three major events that have happened in your life in the last year can leave you feeling drained, and it doesn’t do much in terms of deepening your social connections.
What are meaningful conversations?
Vera compares meaningful conversations to hikes in the forest, where we get to slow down, pay attention to our steps, and take some risks: “Meaningful conversations allow us to see others and feel seen by them, to feel a sense of intimacy, and to show up as ourselves.”
A meaningful conversation doesn’t need to be intense or serious—rather, it just needs to be a conversation that you find both enjoyable and enriching.
Engaging in meaningful conversations
Start engaging in meaningful conversation with the following suggestions.
- Asking better questions (such as those that start with who, what, when, where, why, and how)
- Listening mindfully to answers (rather than worrying about what you’re going to say next or what the outcome of the conversation will be)
- Being willing to share something about yourself
Drawing healthy boundaries
Making an effort to go deeper with people around you doesn’t mean that you are obliged to engage with people whose presence you find harmful. These relationships can feel particularly stressful around the holidays, when interactions may be hard to avoid.
One way to navigate this is by setting healthy boundaries. First, decide what behaviors you are or aren’t willing to put up with. Then, communicate these red lines calmly, clearly, and consistently. You can also consider practicing “loving detachment,” the process of letting go of any need to control a person or a situation.
Root to rise
If you can’t, or don’t want to, spend the holidays with family, there are still many other ways to nurture meaningful connections during this time. Think about getting involved with your community: are there any holiday events that you can attend to bring you closer to those around you, or that need volunteers to run smoothly?
Giving back can be particularly rewarding for people who may be missing or grieving friends or family members, as volunteering can make you feel physically and emotionally healthier.
By Isabela Vera