Whether experiencing connections full of love and joy, or navigating challenging interactions, if you’re like me, you’ve found relating with other people one of the most dynamic, rewarding areas of life:
- A loved one’s eyes light up with gratitude for finally feeling appreciated for their unique contribution (essence?)…
- A deep sigh of relief from letting go of a limiting self-image we’ve been carrying for years…
- A flood of warmth in our chests as our heart opens when someone reveals themselves vulnerably…
- Raw, edgy excitement as we reveal our truth, free from fear of what others might think…
- Peals of laughter pouring out as we share in a taboo, private joke between us…
- A profound sense of oneness with another as we connect, experiencing any sense of separateness dissolve between us…
Yet, if you’re like most people, then these experiences are often few & far between…or just happen by sheer grace.
What we’ve found is that learning and applying even just a few simple distinctions & tools, you can begin to enjoy richer and deeper connections in all your interactions.
Connection Roadmap: The 3 Levels of Conversation
Back in my mid-20′s, for a brief period, I declared my own private war on “small talk”. I was tired of mundane, superficial conversations, and I wanted to cut straight to deep, meaningful interactions – to the good stuff!
During that time, I used to walk up to people I’d never met on the BART train station platform in San Francisco and ask them, “So, what are YOU passionate about?”
Well, as you might imagine, people looked at me like this:
Eventually I realized what might already seem obvious to you — that there’s a natural unfolding to a conversation, and when we follow that, it makes way for new levels of connection to emerge.
We’ve all had that intuition that we could be having a juicier, more rewarding conversation, but like a combination lock, we aren’t quite sure what the code is to unlock that deeper level of connection, intimacy, play, excitement…whatever it is that we’re looking for.
You’ve Always Had a Hunch Things Could Be Richer, Deeper…
Have you ever been out on a date, at a dinner party, with a coworker or family member, and had a nagging intuition that you could be having a more rewarding, dynamic interaction…
Maybe you realized this in an awkward lull in the conversation, between topics…
…or noticing that you were tuning them out, because it seemed like neither of you were truly interested in the topic…
…or perhaps even more sobering, you noticed that YOU were the one filling the silence with idle chatter, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”…
While I see nothing wrong with small talk, what seems to be in more short supply (and what people who find our work are looking for) is rich connection. So…
How can we guide an interaction into a place where it’s truly NOURISHING for both of us?
First, Acknowledge What Level You’re At –
What kind of conversations do you typically find yourself in?
Level 1: Informational – simply a data exchange– no real intimacy, though you may find coincidences or overlapping circles of friends, interests, or background.
Level 2: Emotional/Personal — sharing about our thoughts, feelings, desires — our internal experience (a “deep connection”).
Level 3: Relational — engaging about what’s happening *right now*, in the moment, between us – it’s the most dynamic, rarest, my favorite, and the main focus of this guide…
We’ll go into more detail on each one:
LEVEL 1: INFORMATIONAL
At this level, it’s just the facts, ma’am. Great for a police report, not so great for deep connection. Also known as “wide rapport”, because at this level the conversation is flat and wide.
Informational Conversation Examples
Nice weather we’re having.
Yes, It’s going to be up to 60 degrees today, but I heard it’s going to snow tomorrow.
Where’d you grow up?
I grew up in Georgia, but I’ve lived most of my adult life in New York.
Do you have any siblings?
I’m the eldest of 3 kids.
What do you like to do for fun?
Gardening and dancing, mostly.
What do you do for a living?
I’m an aerospace engineer with JetBlue.
This is the way most people talk, most of the time.
Benefits of This Level
Communicating at this level is good for “getting a feel” for someone, because even as we may be having a conversation about the weather, we’re picking up all other kinds of information about that person through their nonverbals, their voice tonality, eye contact, etc…
So even if the content of the conversation is relatively superficial, there are still WORLDS happening that you can tune into for more richness at any point…
Let’s move on to the next level…
LEVEL 2: PERSONAL/EMOTIONAL
At this level, we’re sharing our interior, subjective experience… emotions and personal preferences.
Personal/Emotional Conversation Examples
Which season is your favorite?
Oh, the winter, I feel a thrill whenever I see the first snow of the year.
How does your Southern country upbringing influence you now that you’re an adult here in New York?
Hmm, I imagine it’s made me more friendly and trusting, despite being in such an urban environment…
What do you like most about working at JetBlue?
Well, I love adventure and traveling…and this really gives me the freedom to do that.
What’s something you really appreciate about your brother?
I think maybe it’s his rascally, mischievous nature. Even when he goes too far and pisses me off, I still privately envy how clever he is.
What’s something that your heart can’t help but open to?
Hmmm…Animals definitely open my heart… dogs, especially– I don’t know how I would’ve gotten through childhood without my dog…
At this level, potentially sensitive topics could come up, and strong listening skills can be important here…major opportunities for healing and clearing away shame emerge as we vulnerably share our experience in safe place…
Practices That Can Take You to the Personal/Emotional Level
- Genuine Curiosity
- Offer Reflection
- Share Vulnerably
Ok, let’s move on to the level we most love to play at here at the Integral Center…
LEVEL 3: RELATIONAL
This is the stage at which you move from talking ABOUT stuff, and focusing more on what’s happening between the two of you, right now, in the moment.
This is also where the feedback and reflection essential for transformation and growth happens. Usually the biggest jump from being a nice conversation to being arewarding experience, is the jump from the Informational or Personal level…to RELATIONAL. YES!!
Examples of Relational Conversation
I’m noticing I’m feeling giddy talking to you right now – I’m so excited to be connecting with you.
I just felt confused and hurt when you said that my mom was never friendly to you.
When you laughed just then, I could hear your ‘Southern Belle’ coming through…I feel drawn to you when you do that.
I notice I feel myself tighten every time you complain about your boss. It seems like you have no intention of actually addressing the situation with him. Is that true?
As you were talking, I just had a flash of us taking a trip to go showshoeing in the Rockies to one of those ski cabins for the weekend…
Hearing how you’ve finagled your way into management, I’m getting how crafty you are. I’m gonna have to watch myself around you!
I notice my heart’s swelling and I’m feeling a lot closer to you when you talk about how supportive your brother has been for you over the years.
Sharing at this level can be intensely vulnerable, but it’s also where a conversation goes from being an exchange of ideas or experiences, to co-creating an experience, in the moment…
I’ve found that Relational Conversations can accelerate self-awareness, evolve our consciousness, and rapidly deepen connection and intimacy.
Level 3 In A Community…
Sharing at the relational level is THE shift towards creating Authentic Community.
This is the type of community that radically evolved me personally and relationally.
Personal development and transformation of consciousness accelerates DRAMATICALLY, as we offer feedback and reflection to each other, in the moment, about how we’re experiencing and impacting each other. When this is woven into the culture of a community, this is a true transformational Sangha.
That said, this is also the level where things get tricky. As we put attention on serving each other through feedback and reflection, it becomes a rich breeding ground for projecting our disowned aspects (aka shadow) onto each other in service of “being real”, etc…
Example of projection vs owning your experience:
I feel like you’re suppressing your anger right now vs
When you say you’re not upset, I notice tension in me, and I don’t fully believe you.
You need to tell the truth to the people in your life vs
I feel frustrated that you haven’t had a conversation with that person yet.
Practices That Can Take You to the Relational Level
- Speak the Moment
- Own a Desire
- Share Impact
- Offer Reflection
- Set Context
So, those are what I call the 3 Levels of Conversation — Informational, Personal/Emotional, and Relational. By getting clear about what level of conversation we’re operating at, and being aware of other types of conversations we COULD be having, new possibilities open up, and we can see other places that we could go, other adventures to explore.
A FEW DISCLAIMERS
1. This Isn’t Meant As a Rigorous Philosophical Framework
We could probably distinguish infinite types of conversations (not just 3), and multiple levels operating at any moment, given the nature of sub-communication, non-verbals, and body language that are all happening simultaneously… For example, banter and flirting are other types of conversation that aren’t covered in this guide…
Maybe this guide should be called, “3 Levels of Deep Connection”, since the real focus of this particular guide is on specifically that: Deep Connection. That said, it should be noted that…
2. Conversations Don’t Always Have To Be Transformational or Deep To Be Rewarding
Great conversation isn’t about “going as deep as possible”. It’s about celebrating EVERY stage of the conversation for exactly what it is , while OWNING your desire to take it deeper, if, in fact that is the case for you!
I, for one, am often just as content to enjoy casual silly banter, than have some deep, eye-gazing Tantric connection. Enjoy all the flavors for what they are!
When we get fixated on only having “meaningful conversations”, I’ve found things get over-processy and sticky. Give your deep, personal conversations and “relational experiences” some breathing room!
3. Beware of Getting Fixated on What Level Conversation You’re In…
This is one of those guides that it’s best to read it, than forget it all…let it fall into the background. One of the surest ways to kill a great conversation or deep connection is to keep checking in the moment, “What level of conversation are we at? Ok, how about…now?”
Ideally, this has helped shed some light on your personal tendencies, and given you some pointers to look out for the next time you’re in conversation with someone and you want to take it deeper.
Invitation: Share Your Story Here!
One of the best things you can do to have richer, more rewarding conversations, is to go back over them in your mind. This will reinforce what was nourishing for you about them. I invite you to share in the comments below a story/example of a particularly rewarding conversation you had — feel free to include the dialogue if you like — and identify what about the interaction was most rewarding for you — bonus points if it was a level 3, Relational conversation!