Do your conversations have meaning? Like, real meaning? Or do you just talk for the sake of talking?
The thing is that we’ve all done a bit of both to a greater or lesser degree. We’ll have meaningful conversations when the situation calls for it. When it doesn’t, we’ll talk just to fill the empty air seemingly.
We, Westerners, are masters at filling the vacuity of quiet space. In fact, we’ve invented a term for not doing so – “uncomfortable silence.” This is too bad because we can often learn more about someone else – and about ourselves – if we could somehow embrace the silence rather than shun it.
But I digress.
To find meaning in a conversation is not the opposite of “uncomfortable silence,” but the opposite of small talk. Fruitless, empty, rhetorical, way-below-our-intelligence small talk.
Our dialogues can’t always be noteworthy, but they can be meaningful.
First, by making an effort to talk about something of consequence to both you and the listener. If it doesn’t matter to you – or the other person – why say anything?
Second, by using smart, intellectually engaging words, phrases, and questions. Ah! Yes, that’s the ticket! But, alas, how to do that?
Repeat the five words after me: “Can I get your advice?”
Rest assured, using these five words will limit the amount of extraneous, face-palm-inducing gobbledygook you hear. If you’re anything like this writer, this should be music to your “I despise small talk” ears.
These five words will transform your conversations, make them more meaningful, and enrich your personal and professional life.
Let’s talk about how it does exactly that.
“A Penny for Your Thoughts” (Cause that’s what they’re worth much of the time.)
“Definition of advice. 1: recommendation regarding a decision or course of conduct…”
Advice | Definition of Advice by Merriam-Webster
What do we think about most of the time? Be honest.
You don’t need to be. The science is in – and it’s doesn’t have too many kind words about what goes through our mind. Research by Harvard psychologists Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert found that our mind wanders “about 47% of [all] waking hours.” This mind-wandering mode is strong enough to be considered the default-mode network of the brain.
We spend almost half of our lives thinking about something other than what matters now.
Worse: “mind-wandering typically makes [people] unhappy.” And where are they most unhappy? “When resting (really?), working or using a home computer.”
Let’s do a bit of deduction.
If we aren’t happy with our thoughts most of the time, what makes us think it’s a good idea to ask someone else for theirs?
And even if (and that’s a BIG if) you get an on-topic response, you risk leaving the conversation open to redirection. Probably to a topic that’s, well, unhappy.
The conversational substance is what we’re after here – and asking for ‘thoughts’ is too vague and, again, risks being misinterpreted or being taken advantage of.
What’s to stop some blabbermouth from rambling on for five minutes about nothing? You asked for his thoughts. Well, you got them. His thoughts had nothing to do with anything.
Granted, socially conscious and emotionally intelligent people will get the hint and form a well-constructed response, even if it’s not filled with actionable information. But not everyone falls into one or both buckets mentioned above – and therein lies the problem of asking for “thoughts.”
You: “Hey, socially inept Bob, can I get your thoughts on this project?”
Socially inept Bob: “Right after I finish up with this email. Speaking of which, did you…”
See where this is headed?
Everyone has thoughts. Not everyone has advice. And even socially inept Bob knows that.
Advice = Wisdom
Professional advice. Expert advice. Honest advice. Good advice. Take my advice.
People equate advice with wisdom and intelligence, structure and function, formality and professionalism, intention, and action.
Here’s another near-universal human trait: we fear appearing incompetent to others. (Not everyone, as you no doubt have experienced, hence why this is a ‘near-universal’ trait.)
Asking for advice is also asking for the others:
- Attention: It’s impossible to deliver quality advice without directing our attention to the conversation.
- Engagement: Ask someone for advice and notice how they will (sometimes slowly) direct their body toward you – this is engagement.
- Formality: Not in an uptight, snooty kind of way; instead, you’ll limit the extraneous noise so often heard in everyday conversation.
- Intellect: Just as advice requires attention and engagement, advice involves intelligence. The former is a byproduct of the latter.
Advice Means That You Value Someone Else
Who do we usually ask advice from? Often, it’s people that we value in one way or another. We value their expertise, their knowledge. So, asking for someone else’s advice is to call for their best – and they appreciate it.
People feel honored when you ask for their advice. It’s also a wonderful gift to bestow upon someone. Perhaps someone is feeling down about themselves for some reason.
Put yourself in that situation for a minute.
Imagine that you’re not particularly happy with yourself. Maybe you doubt your competence or ability to perform a particular task. Now, imagine that someone comes up to you and asks for your advice about something.
Bear in mind that they could ask anyone, so why you?
It’s because they value who you are and what you may bring to the table. That’s a big deal.
And we should try and value others for who they are. This can be a challenge with certain people (you know who I’m talking about.) Those we have a bit of bad history with, for example.
Still, we can try giving them another chance – and asking for their advice is a powerful way to demonstrate that you still value (or are trying or want to value) the person, despite their faults.
Advice Builds (and Rebuilds) Trust
Here’s the thing: we don’t ask for advice often. We may ask for input, thoughts, ideas, etc., but this isn’t the same. Remember, terminology matters here.
This is precisely why asking for advice is a potent trust builder – and rebuilder.
Asking for advice builds trust by generating a sort of “I’m here and at my best!” response in the other person. And really, it’s a sweet thing to do regardless of setting. (Ask the next service person you meet for the advice and watch their reaction!)
It will also generate feelings of kinship, which is why asking for advice builds trust as well. It does so mainly by allowing the other person to drop their defensive mechanisms.
This can’t happen with a “Hey, what’s up?” or a “Can we chat?”. While such queries may open things up for a dialogue, which can then lead to a rebuilding of trust, there’s no power in the initial question. It may also very well be ignored or put off.
Asking for advice evokes a sense of “I should respond to this” to a greater degree than simply asking to chat or talk. It also, as mentioned, elicits a feeling of self-esteem and worthiness.
Again, asking for advice brings forth a sense of kinship, warmth, and openness in the other person; it also, almost contrarily, brings for a feeling of formality and distinction.
Such qualities are why these five powerful words are superb trust builders.
Advice Develops (and Mends) Relationships
If asking for advice builds and rebuilds trust, it makes sense that it has a similar effect on relationships. For as the saying goes, “Relationships are built on trust.”
While asking for advice can certainly help mend a relationship, it’s probably more potent as a relationship builder. It is so for the reasons discussed earlier. Therefore, asking for advice prompts the evocation of kindship, self-esteem, and appreciation. All of these things are foundational to the development of any relationship, personal or professional.
Two areas where this advice about asking for advice (see what I did there?) may be advantageous is in the workplace and with your spouse or partner. In the former setting, asking for advice is seen as an act of both competency and humility. These qualities can go far in a professional environment, especially since they’re becoming increasingly rare.
As for the latter, is any explanation needed? How intimate is it to ask for your partner’s advice on something of importance? Pose the question to your lover and find out!
Here’s to advice and wisdom!
One of the many universal human needs is the need to be respected. Another near-universal need is to appear and demonstrate competence.
Plus, people love to be asked for advice.