May 11, 2018

How are you?

I’m great, you?

So great!

That’s…great!

You’ve probably already had this exchange at least 15 times this week.

But here’s a radical idea: Let’s ban the “I’m great!” conversation.

I’m not saying you can’t say you’re feeling great if you actually are (props to you!). But so often, this type of chat acts as a placeholder for deeper talks and masks what’s really going on in our lives.

The neverending “I’m great”-offs keep us from more meaningful conversations, which could actually help us feel truly great. Research shows that people who have more substantive conversations—ones that push beyond “great weather we’re having!”—are happier than people who fill their days with small talk.

People who have more substantive conversations—ones that push beyond “great weather we’re having!”—are happier than people who fill their days with small talk.

You probably know what a “meaningful conversation” feels and sounds like—they’re the conversations you walk away from feeling a little bit closer, more connected, and lighter than before. They sound like your most authentic self taking the mic.

Of course, sometimes you have to default into “I’m great” mode—maybe you’re in a rush or don’t want to unravel your problems in the span of an elevator ride—but when you want to have meaningful conversations with the people around you, here’s how to go deeper:

1. Break Down Your Wall (a Little)

Here’s the thing—if you’re not actually feeling great, chances are the person you’re chatting with isn’t having the most beautiful and fantastic week either. But it’s tough to be the first person to break the “great” bubble. You can ease into it, though.

It’s tough to be the first person to break the “great” bubble.

Whether it’s showing a little chink in your armor by talking about a frustrating exchange with your boss or revealing that you’re feeling a little nervous about moving in with your partner, showing any bit of vulnerability will signal to the other person that they can do the same.

2. Think About Your Mindset

So often, our “everything’s cool!” response is a reflexive, knee-jerk reaction. It might be something you don’t even think about—like reaching for your keys when you’re at your front door. You’ve done it so many times, you barely pause to think, “What am I actually doing?”

But taking a second to consider how you’re truly feeling enables your response to be more honest and true to yourself.

So often, our “everything’s cool!” response is a reflexive, knee-jerk reaction.

The next time someone greets you with “How are you?” take a beat and ask yourself, “How am I actually feeling in this moment?” Then, let that authentic answer guide your convo.

3. Ditch the Dull Questions

“How was your day?” is a deceptively tricky question. It makes you think in black or white: “Was my day ‘good’ or ‘bad’?” It forces the person answering to quickly sort their day into one or two categories.

Instead, introduce shades of gray. Substitute “How was your day?” with “What was the highlight of your day?”

Honestly, this might sound a little cheesy at first, but it actually works. A highlight could be a lunchtime walk, or seeing the cutest smiling dog on the street, or listening to that new Shawn Mendes song on repeat.

You’ll connect over something new—and discover what your friend is appreciating the most right now. And if you sense a person is struggling, try asking, “What felt challenging today?” It’s an easy way to dive into a more serious conversation.

4. Switch Up Your Location

If you’re shy or an introvert, you’re probably not going to spill your guts to a friend in a coffee shop or on the subway. But you don’t have to change yourself to have deep conversations. Instead, change where you’re engaging with your friends.

Think about where you feel most comfortable. Maybe instead of a boozy dinner out, you can start inviting friends over for a meal, drink, or cup of tea. Some of my most memorable conversations with friends have taken place in my apartment over coffee and lots of Trader Joe’s snacks.

Some of my most memorable conversations with friends have taken place in my apartment over coffee and lots of Trader Joe’s snacks.

Going for a walk or run or huffing through an exercise class together can also stimulate unlikely conversations—you’re already profusely sweating and awake at an ungodly hour, so unless you’re a world-class fibber, you’re probably going to cut to the chase and skip the “I’m great!” stuff.

5. Ask for Specific Advice

Saying “Actually, I’ve had a pretty crummy week,” can often feel like you’re burdening the other person, and it’s one reason why we stay in the “I'm soooo great” family when chatting. But you can reframe the way you talk about your issues.

If you're venting averse, think about whether this person can offer you advice. Not only will your friend feel needed and useful, but you might walk away in a completely different mood. Some of my most helpful conversations started with me asking someone how they’d deal with a situation I’m in.

If you want to talk about that boss, co-worker, or spouse, try reframing the moment to ask your friend how they’ve dealt with a similar issue in the past. Their experience can be beneficial to you.

6. Attend (or Create!) an Event

If you’re opening up to friends one at a time, why not go for the gold and extend the invitation? Gathering a group of friends to chat about their careers or work or maybe the latest book you’re reading can provide an anchor and a safe space for people to share what they’re going through.

Plus, you’ll have an entire brain trust of folks that can advise everyone else—and make some new friends in the process. Think of this less like group therapy and more of an inspirational huddle.

Bottom line: You don’t have to settle for a less-than-great “I’m great!” talk. Show some vulnerability, switch up your location, and get ready to have some actually great conversations.


Read next: Six Tips for Reading Emotions in Text Messages

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