I’ve been reflecting a lot on my past academic year, the first normal-ish one since COVID. Like any college experience, the classes, events, and assignments influence the quality of college life. But the biggest factor is the conversations and friendships developed along the way. After all, we base our sense of belonging and best memories off of the people we spend the most time with.

However, there is one type of conversation that should be avoided when making friends. It’s effortless and very average. It’s also the kind that authors of good books never include because they achieve nothing informationally sustainable. It’s when you learn a person’s name, year, and major, along with the knowledge that they had a “good” day. Then there’s about 5 seconds of awkward standing around before you both wish the other a good afternoon, disperse, then talk to more people.

Okay, that’s extreme, but we’ve all done it at some point in time. I speculate that it comes from not feeling energetic or confident enough to actually express the struggles we are dealing with. Obviously, several factors could be at play (being new to college, living in post-COVID world, not drinking enough coffee, having a tough week, being an extreme introvert, or something else), but holding meaningful conversations draws upon the fundamental human necessity for interactions and rejuvenates others. Here are some ideas on how to have more meaningful conversations:

  1. Take interest in what the other person is saying. I heard some intriguing ACT prep advice online during high school. The author said to act like the content presented in each section is the most fascinating thing you’ve every learned. This applies to conversations, too. Maybe being overly enthusiastic about someone’s daily life in a conversation would be weird, but being genuine always shows.
  2. Don’t start (or stay) with a shallow topic. Ask intriguing questions, start with a funny story, or tell a joke. Lukewarm conversations never last long because they lack deep content.
  3. If you’re an introvert, go to an event with an extrovert and let them do the talking. Though commonly kept a secret, introverts initiate conversations just to pawn off the talking as quickly as possible on other people (guilty here). Which leads me to another suggestion…
  4. Get the other person talking about themselves. Anyone likes to talk about themselves or interests they have, and I think it’s to contribute to a cause and feel like their lives make a difference and positive impact on others. Being able to share something we care about, or feel good at, is not a bad thing. Listening to others first (without anyone dominating the conversation) is a balanced approach and will make the other person like you more.
  5. Don’t pretend to be something you aren’t. Nothing is more artificial than a fake personality. That said, we like people that are similar to us. There’s a balance between being polite and being unique. Don’t be afraid to express yourself in a conversation!

Quality interactions take a lifetime to learn and require endless practice to master. Thankfully, college is the perfect opportunity to grow in this area.

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