Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Surpass Small Talk: Creating Emotional Connections in Conversations

Do you remember the last time you tried to strike up a conversation with someone only to come to a dead end when you didn’t seem to have much to say to one another? It might have happened with a colleague at work or a new person you met in a social gathering. If you’re like most people, it could just as easily happen at dinnertime with your spouse or child. This feeling is often frustrating and it can be difficult to figure out what you can do to develop and deepen the conversation. What can you do to jumpstart a conversation to engage someone and build an emotional connection? 

Most people start conversations with questions such as “Where are you from?”, “What do you do?” or “What did you do today?” The response you will hear is usually factual: “I live in Brooklyn”, “I’m an accountant” or “I took a test.” While this is a great way to begin a conversation, most people fall into a trap of continuing the conversation by following up with more fact-based questions: “Do you know my cousin from Brooklyn?”, “Where do you work as an accountant?, “What kind of test was it?” It might seem like you are taking an interest in the other person but if you continue along a fact-finding path, it is likely to leave one or both of you bored with the conversation.

The key to changing the quality of your conversations is to discuss FACT+FEELING. After you ask a fact-based question, follow up with a question about a feeling that is related to the fact: “What made you decide to live in Teaneck?”, “What do you like about accounting?”, or “How did you feel when you were taking the test?” Allow time for people to think about and articulate their feelings.

When people express their feelings and opinions, avoid judging what they say or comparing it to how you would think or feel. Instead, listen carefully and summarize for them what you heard them say in your own words. Empathize by sharing how you could understand why they would feel this way. Put yourself in their shoes and empathize with their feelings, even if you do not agree with them. While this approach may be challenging at times, it is worth the effort. People find it very validating when you understand and empathize with their feelings. This transforms your conversations from small talk to deep and meaningful conversation and helps foster an emotional connection.   

Empirical research conducted by Dr. John M. Gottman demonstrates how an emotional connection and a sense of trust are developed when we listen to and empathize with someone’s feelings. In his book on how to foster close connections for couples, The Science of Trust: Emotional Attunement for Couples, and his guide for parents Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child: The Heart of Parenting, Gottman talks about the importance of being attuned to another person in a relationship, whether it be your date, spouse, child or friend. ATTUNE is an acronym that Gottman offers to summarize six key steps to effectively respond to another’s feelings: Awareness, Tolerance, Turning toward, Understanding, Non-defensive listening and Empathy.   

Each conversation with another person presents an opportunity for others to share their feelings with us. The more that we demonstrate to them that we can understand their feelings and empathize with them, the more they will be encouraged to continue sharing their feelings with us. You’ll be amazed by how easily your conversations will flow and how you’ll generate and grow your affection for one another. 

About the Author
Dr. Chani Maybruch is a relationship educator and coach, and the co-founder of The Relationship Couple together with her husband, Rabbi Shmuel Maybruch ( She has been guiding individuals and couples for fourteen years on how to enhance their relationships. She provides personalized, research-based coaching to people who are looking for a life partner or who are dating, engaged, or married – helping people at every stage bring out the best in their relationship.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Finding Happiness

"If I could find the ideal partner, I'd be happy."

"I'll be happy... when I get married!"

“If only I had ___________, I would be happier.” (Fill in the blank: a new job, more money, a better boss, a bigger house, a more attractive physique.)

Yet, research shows that happiness is not something to be attained. The principle of adaptability states that people who become happier after attaining something they desire cannot sustain this increased level of happiness. Rather, they tend to adapt to the new circumstance and eventually return to their former state of happiness. For example, surprisingly, people who have won multimillion dollar lotteries do not become happier than they were beforehand. In fact, research shows that they often become depressed. Perhaps they despair when they realize that having all that money does not lead them to the happiness they crave.

If continued happiness does not come when you get something that you want, then how can you be happier? Research shows that you need to work at it. There are some specific practices that are frequently found among happy people. You can increase your happiness day-by-day by consciously incorporating these strategies into your life.

Sonja Lyubomirsky, scientific researcher on happiness, in her book The How of Happiness (2008), provides many useful strategies for increasing happiness. Here are my top five:
  1. Express gratitude
  2. Cultivate optimism
  3. Avoid over-thinking and social comparison
  4. Nurture social relationships
  5. Savor life’s joys

It is probable that you may be practicing some of these behaviors already. If you are, you can benefit from them even more by focusing and being more mindful as you do them.

For example, if you already savor life’s joys, be even more conscious when you experience a daily pleasure. If you like coffee, don’t just enjoy drinking the coffee. Experience the coffee fully with your senses.  Inhale deeply as the smell of the coffee wafts into the air. Watch as the swirl of the milk transforms the dark coffee into a lighter shade. Savor the warmth emanating from the coffee as you cradle the round cup inside the palm of your hand. Taste the unique flavor of the coffee blend as it rolls across your tongue. Appreciate the marvelous pleasure of experiencing a cup of coffee. The more you slow down to mindfully experience daily joys like this, the more you will open your mind and heart for happiness to enter. 

Consult The How of Happiness for more details about how to incorporate these strategies into your day. You don’t have to use all of the strategies in order to become happier. Find the strategies that are the best fit for you. The more happiness strategies you practice consistently, the happier you will be.

(I bought my copy from Amazon. It was a great price and it came in 2 days. Click here to find out more!) 

The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want

Thursday, February 7, 2013

What is Relationship Coaching?

The world’s most successful people rely extensively on coaches. They are the forces behind winning athletes, accomplished business executives, successful traders, and sensational entertainers. Individuals who want to perform their best and to continue to succeed connect with someone who has two criteria: 1) he knows that they have even greater potential to reach and 2) he can offer insight and strategies toward that goal.

This technique is more important with our most precious commodity – our relationships. Soul mates are created, not chosen. A relationship with a true soul mate is like fine wine – it gets deeper, richer, and blissful over time as each partner is committed to continuous self-growth and improvement. One reaps the benefits of what he invests in the relationship.

An outstanding relationship coach provides a person with a new way of looking at themselves, a new way of looking at those around them, and a new way of looking at their current situation. She also offers specific techniques and practical steps to take in order to achieve one’s goals. A skilled relationship coach helps individuals form relationships where spouses appreciate one another, support one another through life’s ups and downs, and help each other achieve life goals.

However, some people look at coaching as a last resort intervention for a serious problem. I sometimes laugh when I am asked, “How many people, unfortunately, come to you for coaching?” Individuals that reach out to coaches aren’t “unfortunate.”  They are the most successful, intelligent, and effective people in the world! A great coach maximizes a person’s potential and helps her do what she is already doing - but even better!

If you want to invigorate your life and enhance your relationship, seek out a coach!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Power of Perception

How can we deal with things that people say or do that we don’t understand? We might wish we could change that person’s behavior, but we have as much control over that as we do over the weather. We cannot control someone else’s actions – only our reactions.

In order to control our reactions- and react more positively – it is helpful to keep in mind that our reactions are solely based on our own perception. A lot goes into how we perceive someone else’s behavior. It depends on our own biases, knowledge and past experiences. We each react depending on how we interpret a situation.
Try these scenarios. See how your reaction depends on what you believe, what you know and your own past experiences:

  • A man is walking down a street in the night.  His jeans are a little grimy…he has stubble on his unshaven chin …his hair is a little matted and dirty, so is his coat.  He walks toward you. What would you think?
  • A mother is pulling her child out of the car and her child is crying and screaming. What would you think?

 Just like there are many ways to interpret these scenarios, there are many ways to perceive how our partner, friend, parent, child or co-worker is behaving. Choosing to give the other person the benefit of the doubt can help us stay positive in our thoughts, words, and interactions!