Have you ever concluded a family visit or holiday gathering feeling like you didn’t have substantive conversation with anyone? That you don’t know anyone more deeply or understand what makes them hopeful or passionate? That you’re not sure how they’ve changed or grown since the last time you saw them? That you’re really tired of superficial chitchat?
With travel, taking care of children, present-opening, special outings, and lots of cooking and eating, we can rush through this holiday time, and not feel any more connected to those we love than before we gathered. When we do have conversation, we often get caught up in reciting our “to-do” or “have-done” lists—what activities our children do, what we do at work, what we’re going to do in the New Year. But laundry lists of activities do not lead to meaningful conversation in my experience.
What if one simple question could change the quality of your conversations, the level of intimacy you feel with people you love and the satisfaction you get from holiday gatherings?
Dan and I saw a marriage counselor when we were making the transition to me staying home full-time with our children instead of working full-time. We wanted to make sure we were aware of the issues such a shift would create and able to have productive conversations about our changing needs and roles. Reporting what we did during the day, with whom and what we ate for lunch and other such minutiae is where we and other couples often begin and end daily conversation, but none of these topics address what’s going on in the heart and soul. Instead, our counselor gave us a magic question to ask each other at the end of the day so that we revealed to each other thoughts and feelings related to our activity; it became a tool to increase intimacy and connection as we each grew and changed over time. Dan and I still use this magic question seventeen years later, especially when we want a more substantive conversation. It’s very simple and easy to remember:
What is the impact of _____ on you?
You fill in the blank with the topic at hand (e.g. your new job, the loss of your mom, your child’s move to college, current political discourse, a health problem, whatever). Asking about the impact helps people reflect on and share what is changing and growing inside them as the result of their activities or circumstances. This leads to more intimate sharing that acknowledges that all events, large and small, continue to shape who we are, how we think and what we’re learning about ourselves and the world.
I use this question in just about every conversational setting I’m in, including work and ministry settings, in addition to family gatherings. Managers can better understand what’s going on with their team if they inquire about the impact of changes to company policy and practice. Imagine how such a question could change how committees report to the governing board in a church or non-profit organization. Boards usually know already if the essential work is getting done or not, so wouldn’t you rather hear about how a program or ministry has had an impact on the participants or the community served?
Engage in some experimental impact questions this holiday season and reflect on how it deepens conversation and increases satisfaction and enjoyment at your gatherings. Maybe it will become part of a goal to have more meaningful, healthy relationships in 2016!
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Copyright : Marina Zlochin
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