Have you been in that situation before where you’d like to move beyond small talk but just can’t seem to do it?
How do we deepen our connections with the people we encounter in our lives? Chip and Dan Heath explore this in their enlightening book, The Power of Moments, and the answer is easier than you think.
Imagine a scenario where you show up at a bus stop and there’s somebody already waiting there. You say, “Hi,” and the other person responds, “Hey.” End of conversation. But let’s imagine instead you say, “I’m really glad this day is over–I’ve had a really hectic day. How about you?” That’s it. Studies show that this tiny bit of self-disclosure sparked significantly more intimate comments in return. So revealing something personal about yourself and adding “How about you?” opened up the possibility of having a deeper interaction, one that could grow in a matter of minutes.
Ok, so now you’ve got your next bus stop banter down, but is it possible to have even more significant impact through our conversations? The Heath brothers show us that if we can create the right kind of moment, relationships can change in an instant. And this can have a profound impact on our lives. Consider the following story.
Stanton Elementary School in Washington D.C. was considered one of the worst schools in the country In 2010. Test scores were rock bottom and the environment at the school was chaos. In desperation, the district overhauled the entire school. They replaced the principal, administration, hired almost all new teachers, and gave the school a sprucing up–fresh paint, new lights, and inspirational banners on the walls. But shortly after classes began, students continued to leave and enter their classrooms without permission, detentions were off the charts, and the school went from really bad to worse.
So the principal enlisted the help a foundation focused on improving schools. They told the principal and staff, “You can paint and hang up cool stuff on the walls, but if there’s not trust with the people you’re serving, it doesn’t matter.”
The foundation suggested that the teachers make home visits to all of the parents before the next school year. Home visits were not a novel idea, but this part of this visit was: teachers were forbidden to bring any paper to the visits, no contracts to sign, no information to review. Just themselves. Their role was to ask questions and listen to the answers. The questions were:
“Tell me about your child’s experiences in school. Tell me about yours.”
“Tell me your hopes and dreams for your child’s future.”
“What do you want your child to be someday?”
“What do I need to do to help your child learn more effectively?”
The gist of the questions could be summed up in four words: What matters to you?
In the beginning the teachers were skeptical. The parents were skeptical. But then this amazing thing happened. On the first day of the next school year, the vibe was completely different. And back to school night? In previous years, it had attracted only 25 parents. This year they had to keep setting up chairs until there was standing room only. The benefits kept coming, culminating in reduced truancy, improved academic performance, and higher staff morale. Suspensions were almost extinguished. Year after year, the home visits continued and the strength of the school kept growing. The one-hour home visit had transformed a school. It was, according to the authors, a defining moment: “If we can create the right kind of moment, relationships can change in an instant.” How? “Our relationships are stronger when we perceive that our partners are responsive to us. In short, if we want more moments of connection, we need to be more responsive to others.”
Responsiveness coupled with openness leads to intimacy.
As we approach our own interactions with others, it’s easier than we think to move beyond small talk and to engage in conversations that can make for more meaningful and fulfilling relationships in all aspects of our lives.