Creating Meaningful Connections

How do we flex our ways of communicating to meet our deep need for connection?

My friends in the Templeton Honors College often ask questions about what it means to live a good life. In the world of communication, we understand that “a good life” requires good relationships, which require good communication and flexibility.

Let’s assume that we are all wired or designed for meaningful connection with each other. At the same time, we can fear taking the steps toward meaningful connections with each other, wondering, “Am I worthy of connection?” This internal questioning can lead to fear and shame, and ultimately, a lack of connection.

So how do we flex our ways of communicating to meet our deep need for connection despite being afraid of rejection?

Lead With Curiosity.

The key is to lead with curiosity, rather than diagnosis, assessment, or self-promotion. Let’s pretend that we are visiting an art museum. We go, we experience the art, but we don’t take it home. The encounter is fully viable in and of itself. We can do the same when we meet other people. If we approach one another with curiosity, we have the opportunity to make meaningful connections with others that aren’t dependent on our own social satiation.

Go 3 Questions Deep.

One theory in communication compares getting to know each other as peeling back layers of an onion. We want to be curious and stay in an exploratory mode, rather than a checklist mode, so we focus on asking 3 questions. For example, if I meet someone and they tell me that they like archery, the conversation might go something like this:

Me: Do you have any hobbies?
Them: I really like archery.
Me: Oh interesting – what do you like about archery?
Them: “....” (they tell me something they like about it and mention growing up doing archery with Dad.)
Me: That’s nice that you share a hobby with your dad – what was it like doing archery with your Dad?
Them: “...” (they tell me a memory that involves them in the woods with their father as a child).
Me: That is so interesting!

I don’t plan ahead what my questions are; I ask them based on listening. This dynamic approach creates the opportunity to learn about what the person loves. It becomes a much more interesting and meaningful conversation.

Mine For Their Passions.

Passions are more interesting than positions. What inspires someone? What are their hopes and dreams? What do they love? If you want to make real connections with others, focus on their passion and what motivates them. “What do you find most inspiring about your faith right now?” is a much more interesting question than “What is your position on baptism?” Talking about passion rather than position leads us to explore our common humanity together.

The next time you are in a situation where you feel like you’re struggling to connect with other people, remember that we are all designed for connection. Lean into initiating conversation. Lead with curiosity. Try to go three questions deep. And, mine for their passions. These approaches will help develop more meaningful conversations and deeper relationships for a better life.

Dr. Julie Morgan is Professor of Communication Studies at Eastern University and teaches courses in Interpersonal Communication, Conflict Management, and Communication Theory.

This article was part of a series on Flexibility in the Fall 2021 edition of Eastern magazine. Read additional articles on Flexibility.