Book Summary: Every Conversation Counts, The 5 Habits of Human Connection That Build Extraordinary Relationships by Riaz Meghji

The world is grappling with two major crises: the coronavirus pandemic and an epidemic of loneliness. Broadcaster and television host Riaz Meghji notes that even though digital forms of communication now inundate people’s lives, many individuals feel increasingly isolated – and it’s harming their mental and physical health. Meghji shares practical communication strategies to help you navigate the current social landscape. He shows you how to build more authentic connections in your professional and personal lives, and cultivate more empathy and curiosity for other people.

Book Summary: Every Conversation Counts, The 5 Habits of Human Connection That Build Extraordinary Relationships by Riaz Meghji

Content Summary

Take-Aways
People are more connected, digitally, than ever. Yet loneliness is epidemic.
Combat loneliness by listening to others without distraction.
Elevate your small-talk skills by embracing authentic curiosity.
Strengthen your connections by expressing vulnerability.
Having productive conversations about uncomfortable topics requires empathy.
Show appreciation and gratitude.
Become a better digital communicator by focusing on your intent.
People will still seek out human connection in post-pandemic world.
About the author

Take-Aways

  • People are more connected, digitally, than ever. Yet loneliness is epidemic.
  • Combat loneliness by listening to others without distraction.
  • Elevate your small-talk skills by embracing authentic curiosity.
  • Strengthen your connections by expressing vulnerability.
  • Having productive conversations about uncomfortable topics requires empathy.
  • Show appreciation and gratitude.
  • Become a better digital communicator by focusing on your intent.
  • People will still seek out human connection in the post-pandemic world.

People are more connected, digitally, than ever. Yet loneliness is epidemic.

Healthy relationships generate a slew of positive benefits. Research shows, for example, that doubling your number of friends boosts your well-being as much as increasing your income by 50%. But despite humanity’s need for connection, people everywhere are experiencing increased loneliness. In 2018, 22% of American adults reported that they often or always felt isolated or lonely. The 2020 coronavirus pandemic has sent such feelings into overdrive.

Digital forms of communication abound, but social connection platforms can actually exacerbate feelings of loneliness. For example, people who passively scroll and post status updates on Facebook – as opposed to engaging with others via comments – actually feel more isolated.

“We all crave connection. We evolved to be social animals. We were never meant to live alone or communicate only in ‘likes’ and retweets.”

US surgeon general Vivek Murthy describes five forms of being alone – the first four of which can damage your mental and physical health:

  • Intimate loneliness – You long for someone in whom you can confide or an intimate partner.
  • Relational loneliness – You yearn for quality social companions and friendships.
  • Collective loneliness – You feel you lack a community of like-minded individuals.
  • Isolation – You’re physically alone.
  • Solitude – Unlike the first four states of being, solitude is a peaceful state of voluntary isolation, often for the purpose of self-reflection.

Combat loneliness by listening to others without distraction.

You can overcome your feelings of loneliness by cultivating stronger listening skills, which allow you to better connect with others. People can be bad listeners for many reasons: They’re busy formulating responses while the other person is still talking, or they have an intense emotional reaction to something someone is saying. They might be impatient with the speed with which the other person is conveying information. Or their smartphones distract them.

“We don’t always know what’s going on inside a person’s mind or heart. But we always have the opportunity to support the people we love by reaching out, leaning in and just listening.”

Cultivate stronger listening skills by doing the following:

  • Beat distraction – Slow down and be intentional with your focus. Put away your devices. Don’t force a conversation to follow your own agenda. Instead, try asking open-ended questions, letting others direct the flow of the conversation.
  • Stop making assumptions – You aren’t really listening if you’re busy predicting what someone is going to say next.
  • Note repetition – When people repeat phrases or words, they’re often revealing their primary focus, which is valuable information.
  • Let emotions spark your curiosity – When people express intense emotions, avoid the impulse to react emotionally too. Instead, ask neutral questions (“Why is this issue so important for you?”).
  • Use your eyes – To better understand others, pay attention to body language clues, such as your conversation partner protectively crossing his or her arms.
  • Embrace a “beginner’s mind” – Remain open-minded, letting go of any assumptions of your own expertise.
  • Ask the right questions – People view others as strong listeners when they ask thoughtful questions. Good questions typically use the words “what” and “how.”

Elevate your small-talk skills by embracing authentic curiosity.

Build stronger social ties by cultivating curiosity about others. Research shows that people feel closer to conversation partners who express curiosity. They also view such individuals as more attractive. Curious people care about what’s happening around them and genuinely want to hear people’s stories. They have an open-minded approach to listening, which makes them appear more trustworthy.

“You never know what someone might have to teach you. You never know which conversation will be the most important in your life. Stay open. Stay curious.”

Showcase your curiosity by asking thoughtful questions. For example, you could ask people about their reactions to specific events in their lives. Don’t succumb to the urge to fill silence with your own words. Rather than rushing to share your own judgment or advice, create space for others to express themselves. Even everyday small talk doesn’t have to be trite or tedious: You might learn something important from an unexpected source if you embrace a curious mind-set.

Strengthen your connections by expressing vulnerability.

People often conceal their true feelings from others when performing social roles. For example, when making a sales pitch, you might pretend to be confident when you’re actually feeling insecure. Yet a willingness to show others your authentic self is the bedrock of healthy relationships. You might assume that displaying vulnerability will cause others to view you as weak, but the reverse is true: Research shows that people like individuals who display vulnerability better than those who don’t.

Share your vulnerability in ways that connect you with others:

  • Reflect on the purpose of your storytelling – Ask yourself why you want to tell a story. Are you hoping to entertain, enlighten, persuade or give information to your listeners? Think about your audience’s concerns and priorities, and how your story could service those needs.
  • Share a secret or unexpected truth – Revealing something unexpected about yourself (provided you’re not oversharing with the wrong people) can intrigue your listeners.
  • Include vivid details – Improve your storytelling skills by sharing the details of what you could hear, see, taste, touch and smell.
  • Share a transformational truth – If you want people to celebrate your success with you, then share the struggles and moments of conflict you faced before reaching your goal.
  • Establish your credibility – People are attracted to credible people who display vulnerability, but they’re repelled by those they perceive as lacking in competence.
  • Be genuine – People can tell when you’re trying to manipulate them with contrived stories about your vulnerable moments.

Having productive conversations about uncomfortable topics requires empathy.

Use these strategies to minimize unproductive conflicts, navigate uncomfortable conversations and build empathy with others:

  • Practice – Spend a moment trying to take someone else’s perspective. Imagine how you’d feel if you were in another person’s situation.
  • Challenge yourself – Try to imagine how a person with views opposed to your own, such as someone with differing political beliefs, might feel about the situation or subject matter under discussion.
  • Read a novel – Research shows that when you read fiction, you improve your “theory of mind.” This means you strengthen your ability to grasp someone else’s emotional state.
  • Recognize your biases – Everyone has unconscious biases, which can prevent people from empathizing with others. Harvard’s Project Implicit offers tests that can help you uncover your own prejudices.
  • Focus on your similarities – When you struggle to empathize with someone, reflect on any commonalities you share. For example, perhaps you and the other person both have children.
  • Experience life differently – Break your usual routine. Try to experience something novel that helps you view the world with a fresh perspective.
  • Embrace kindness – If you have to engage with someone you don’t like, consider being nice to the person in small ways. For example, compliment the person’s outfit. Doing so can help you cultivate more positive feelings.
  • Be direct when giving bad news – When you need to have a difficult conversation, be direct in your approach.
  • Be “assertively empathetic” – If you give someone bad news, prioritize your relationship with the person over your desire to manage his or her emotional reaction to the news. Listen, and then acknowledge the person’s perspective. Choose neutral wording when formulating follow-up questions, and don’t assume you understand how the person feels.
  • Accept that people won’t always like you – People tend to dislike people who share negative news with them, and sometimes you can’t avoid this outcome.
  • Own your feelings – You can’t change the way someone else feels, but you can take ownership of your own emotions. Rather than describing how other people make you feel, use “I” sentences (“I feel frustrated”) instead.
  • Focus on areas of agreement – Strive to find common ground when you disagree with someone.
  • Don’t avoid uncomfortable topics – Some of the most worthwhile conversations make people feel uncomfortable. White people, for example, might find it difficult to admit they have white privilege, yet doing so is essential if they wish to have an empathetic conversation about racism.

Show appreciation and gratitude.

If you want to strengthen your bonds with others, approach conversations with a spirit of generosity and gratitude. Take time to show others you appreciate them by making them “feel famous.” You see them, and are grateful for their presence and contributions to the world.

“A spirit of generous gratitude could completely transform the way you interact with the people in your life, if you let it.”

A number of simple actions can help show people you appreciate them:

  • Take notes – Jot down notes about new people you meet. Refer to your notes before you see them next.
  • Remember names – Focus on other people’s faces when they tell you their names. To further cement a name in your memory, ask a question about the name, such as how to spell it. Or make a connection between the name and something/someone else. You can also try using a person’s name in conversation.
  • Give people access to you – To build trust with others and make them feel valued, share something with them that you don’t share with everybody you meet.
  • Praise them – Pay people specific compliments about things they’ve done. Note concrete ways their actions positively affected you or others.
  • Celebrate milestones – Create unforgettable experiences for people to help them celebrate their milestone moments.

Become a better digital communicator by focusing on your intent.

People have plenty of opportunities to misinterpret digital communications, so focus on clarifying your intent, and embrace these best practices:

  • Use emojis when appropriate – Basic icons, such as thumbs-up symbols and smiley faces, help the recipient of a text-based message understand your desired tone.
  • Describe your emotions in video and voice calls – Use words to convey specific emotions. For example, you could say, “I’m thrilled to be starting this conversation.”
  • Be energetic – People will find you more sincere if you communicate energetically than when you speak monotonously.
  • Don’t stare at your self-view – When you’re having video calls, hide the window displaying your own face to avoid feeling self-conscious and distracting yourself.
  • Record yourself – Make a video of yourself reading something you’ve prepared, and watch it. Reflect on your performance, particularly on your effectiveness in conveying emotions. Make adjustments as necessary before attempting a live video call.
  • Present ideas interactively – People struggle to keep focusing during long video calls. If you’re the call’s host or presenter, engage people by asking questions or taking flash polls.

People will still seek out human connection in post-pandemic world.

Here are five predictions about how the pandemic will affect human relationships:

  1. People will continue to adapt their connection styles – When the pandemic ends, people will likely hug their friends again and greet one another physically. In the meantime, people will continue to find new ways to connect digitally, such as using virtual “buddy check-in” systems to help manage feelings of isolation.
  2. Leaders will put relationships first – The future workplace is hybrid, with people working both from home and in offices. Leaders will need to proactively work to help their teams feel a sense of community and social connection.
  3. Companies will focus on service over sales – Successful businesses will make their customers feel valued and heard, showing people they understand the challenges they’re facing.
  4. Customer experiences will be hybrid – Future businesses will combine the convenience and efficiency of technology with human-centered approaches.
  5. Virtual experiences that add value will continue to thrive – While few people will choose to stream events such as concerts when they can attend in person, virtual experiences that offer something new, like immersive forms of virtual reality, will continue to draw customers.

“In times of crisis, connection becomes even more important. Just as isolation increases stress, anxiety and depression, connection fights it.”

Historian Yuval Noah Harari says that emergencies “fast-forward historical processes.” The coronavirus pandemic made people’s work and personal lives more virtual, and sped up humanity’s transition to remote forms of work and learning. But people will continue to seek out meaningful connections with one another in the future.

About the author

Riaz Meghji has 17 years of experience as a broadcaster and television host of shows including MTV Canada and Citytv’s Breakfast Television. He is also a keynote speaker on the topic of human connection.