How to have a real conversation…

Susie Stokes

Are you really listening or just waiting to talk? Waiting for a pause in conversation just so you can speak is not a conversation. A conversation is a two-way street. 

But you’re not alone, in our digitally connected age, we rarely engage in real conversations with one another. And it’s a shame because conversations are more than just spoken words, they establish social bonds between you and a friend, child, partner, or work colleague. And now seems a very important time in our world to be having real conversations.

“Active listening helps focus on understanding others and also improves our relationships by promoting trust, reducing conflict, and increasing our ability to motivate and inspire those with whom we’re communicating.”, according to Psychology Today.

And in a conversation words account for 7%, tone of voice accounts for 38%, and body language accounts for 55% in terms of likability, according to a study by Albert Mehrabian.

And thanks to the influx of technology in our work and personal lives we’ve become creatures of instant gratification, constantly distracted by our phones, tablets, notebooks. Is it any surprise we struggle to focus and listen in a conversation?

But this state of being distracted is nothing new. Over 2,000 years ago, even Socrates and Aristotle debated about “akrasia” (pronounced uh-crazy-uh) our tendency to act against our better judgement. And the ancient Greeks spoke how us mere mortals were prone to distraction due to our weakness of will. But they never had Facebook or Netflix to contend with.

But it’s not just external distractions, our own brains are racing along jumping from thought to thought. In just 600 milliseconds, the human brain can think of a word, apply the rules of grammar to it and send it to the mouth to be spoken. 

Because of this, we think we’re listening but really we’re waiting for the chance to tell our story, offer advice, or even make a judgment. In other words, not listening to understand but to reply. Remember not every thought deserves to be blurted out. 


What is a real conversation?

A real conversation is an adventure into the unfamiliar where two people present their authentic self, unguarded and welcoming the uncertain – Mel Schwartz, psychotherapist.

So to have a real conversation, you’re not starting it with an agenda or making sure you say x,y,z or even that you come across a certain way. Come to it openly, vulnerable and curious, and you will be amazed how people respond. 

Think back to the last time you had lunch with close friends and felt like you were buzzing after your catch-up, sharing your life’s ups and downs and having a giggle. 

That feel-good factor you get is after or during a great conversation is when a chemical in the brain called “endorphin” is released, it promotes social bonding in humans(and animals).  

That’s why we have great conversations with best friends, we’re not afraid to show our true self and happy to let our guard down because we know they’re human too and celebrate and support us.

Active listening in conversation is one of the best ways to connect with another person. The good news is it’s a learned skill so don’t worry, you can improve. As the saying goes we have “two ears and one mouth for a reason: to listen twice as much as to talk”.

Real conversations require our full participation. That barrier you build to protect how you’re perceived is a blocker to an authentic conversation. The hardest part is letting your guard down, but it’s worth it.


Here are some quick ways to add meaning to your conversations:

  • Actively listen
  • Ask open-ended questions
  • Don’t get too excited about your next thought
  • Come from a place of open-mindedness
  • Reveal something personal (this is a great way to deeply connect quickly but use caution and chose your audience carefully)

Everyone has a story to tell. So I wholeheartedly encourage you to listen to those around you, you never know where someone else’s words may lead you. And on that note, I’ll leave you with these words from Dutch Writer & Professor Henri Nouwen.

“Listening is much more than allowing another to talk while waiting for a chance to respond…The beauty of listening is that those who are listened to start feeling accepted, start taking their words more seriously and discovering their own true selves. Listening is a form of spiritual hospitality by which you invite strangers to become friends.”

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