The world is a small place, and is getting smaller each day.
But a shrinking world puts ever greater physical distance between people. It is rare for us to live in the same city as the people we grew up with – our cousins, childhood friends, and college mates. We usually meet for a few hours during special gatherings – family reunions, weddings and the like, after large separations of time.
In these narrow slivers of time, how does one get past the mundane details to strike a conversation that is meaningful? How does one get beyond work timings, what one cooks for dinner, or terrible German weather to something more substantial? How do we discuss something that is actually worthy of the few minutes we have together?
In recent times, I have found a specific question to be useful, especially for one-on-one conversations – “What is the biggest challenge that you currently face?”
This simple question achieves several things. It tells the other person that we are interested in whatever is most compelling in their lives. By listening to their response, we give them an opportunity to step back and think through their challenge while expressing it to us. Further, it serves as a foothold for future conversations, and helps us stay in touch.
Of course, posing this question requires some courage and tact. Once it has been asked, we make a commitment to be a part of the other person’s challenge, in however small a measure, even if it only involves listening to them with all our attention.
Especially, if it involves listening to them with all our attention.