I remember being in the spring of my first year, and I was sitting in the back of my God and the Good Life Class, half paying attention and half sending emails that needed to be answered. In the front of the room, my professor was teaching the class about an article that had been published by the New York Times called “The 36 Questions that Lead to Love”. Naturally, as a desperate 19 year-old with absolutely no prospects on the horizon, I looked up from my laptop and wanted to see if I could finally learn a few practical tips and tricks from a philosophy class. As each question flashed onto the screen, the look of concern grew on my face, and it wasn’t because of my inability to ask a girl these questions.
As the professor continued to go through the 36 questions, I began to realize that I could answer almost none of these questions about my own friends that I had spent the past six months getting to know. From basic questions about their background to more complex questions about what they believed, I realized that I had absolutely no idea what they would answer. This sparked my interest, and I immediately went by to my laptop, but this time to formulate a plan of action.
After class got out, I put on my Snapchat story that I was starting a new passion project called “The 30-minute Conversation Series”. Although it was based off of “The 36 Questions that Lead to Love” article, the objective was not to get people to fall in love with me, as surprising as that may seem! I had only the intention of getting to know the people around me better or catching up with people I hadn’t talked to in awhile. To my surprise, people took an interest in the idea of it, and before I knew it, I had 50 conversations lined up with 50 different people over the course of the next 50 days.
Over the course of nearly two months, I began having brief conversations with peers and extended family members in order to get to know each one of them on a deeper level. Looking back, I acknowledge that my intentions were good, but the methods I used to go about these conversations needed improvement. None of the early conversations had any sort of structure, and I said goodbye to many people after thirty minutes without feeling like I truly gained anything from our time together. By about ten days in, I learned two key things about what I had been doing:
My conversational skills were terrible. Growing up going to K-12 with the same 70 kids, I hardly ever had to find things to talk about with people I didn’t really know. On top of that, if a conversation was with an adult, I would just expect them to carry the conversation. Now that I was in a completely different environment and didn’t share the same experiences as everyone else, I began to realize that being a good listener and conversationalist is a skill that takes time to develop.
Thirty minutes is not enough time to get to know someone. You may get some fun facts about a person and may learn some surface information about a person, but truly getting to know a person takes far longer than thirty minutes. Although a good start, you cannot expect that one conversation will lead to an immense understanding of a person.
With a few new learned lessons in mind, I strategically planned out what I would like to know about the people around me. My plan of action for every conversation was to let it flow naturally, but have three or four guiding questions that I would ask throughout our time together. Before long, I had found my stride in these talks and started to feel like I was getting a better understanding of how to hold a meaningful conversation with someone. This time in my life not only taught me about all of the cool people in my life, but it also taught me more about myself and how to speak to people in a more productive way.
Although I am now two years removed from the original project, I will still ask new people to have a chat from time to time. The series may be over, but it forever taught me the value of genuine conversation. I would encourage everyone to start asking people to grab coffee or go for a walk, because you never know how it may lead to your own growth.