When conversations flow smoothly, people feel comfortable sharing even without an invitation. They'll chime in whenever they have something they want to share and feel encouraged to share it.
This means that in order to create conversational flow, you should:
- Make your partner comfortable
- Inspire your partner to want to share
Making your partner comfortable is pretty straightforward. Be friendly, pay attention to their body language, and give good invitations so they know you really want to know them better.
But what do I mean by inspiring your partner?
Well, picture two artists taking turns while painting together. The first artist might tell the second artist, "Hey, why don't you put some blue here?" and the second artist might respond with "Ok, then you should put some yellow over there."
That's an invitation, and you can certainly make a painting (or a conversation!) using nothing but invitations.
But there's a better way.
The Beauty Of Inspiration
Image that the first artist paints a bold streak of yellow on the canvas. The intensity of the yellow inspires the second artist to create a contrast by adding a somber blue, which in turn inspires the first artist to use shading to highlight the relationship between the blue and yellow, which in turn inspires the second artist to add a new color, and so on until the painting is complete.
That's a painting I would want to see.
A painting created by inspiration building on inspiration will be far more creative and emotive than a painting created by trading invitations.
More importantly, the artists undoubtedly had much more fun (and felt much closer to one another) when they painted in this style.
Inspiration In Conversation
That same effect is true in conversation. When you and your partner inspire each other to share, the conversation flows smoothly and you feel closer one to one another
In a nutshell, you inspire me when something that you share makes me want to share something, too. Notice the word "want" in that definition. Inspiration does not make your partner feel obligated to share. It makes them want to share.
This is different from an invitation, because an invitation explicitly tells your partner "Now is the time to speak---and by the way, this is what you should speak about."
By contrast, an inspiration is much less explicit.
When you inspire your partner, you create a welcoming space where they are encouraged to share but not required to. Inspiration also gives your partner much more freedom in how they respond. If you ask me "How was your weekend?" (an invitation), I can only respond by answering your question. But if you tell me a story from the bowling game you went to last weekend (an inspiration), then I can choose how I respond.
I might ask you a question about the game, or share a story from my own weekend, or give my opinion about bowling leagues. It's up to me.
And that means it's not up to you.
When you weave inspiration into your conversations, you can free yourself from the responsibility of knowing what to say next. Inspiration encourages you and your partner to create a conversation together, trusting that the dash of green that you are painting now will inspire me when it comes time for me to put my own brush to the canvas.
You don't need to have an endless list of questions ready, or memorize funny anecdotes that you can share at a moment's notice. You just need to be genuine in what you share, and share it in a way that encourages your partner to share, too.
It's easy when you see it in practice. And inspiration in practice is exactly what we'll tackle next.