Leaving small talk behind.

Sitting in a hammock at our hotel after some great conversation with a girlfriend at 6:45am.

Enveloped by bright lights of the Singapore skyline and its reflection in the sheer glass windows behind us, one quips they’ve discovered their thirties is less of an outward adventure (travelling) and more of an inward journey of improving oneself (new skills). Another friend has enjoyed where impulse lead him in the last few years. Having recently turned thirty, he wonders whether there are more opportunities to see parts of the world not yet travelled. ‘So, what’s been happening with you?’ is a question which holds much potential yet can be dismissed as a small talk one liner.

This all takes place at a friends’ wedding at Aura, a gorgeous restaurant set atop the National Gallery of Singapore. Tonight, would be yet another chapter in the story which started in 2007; most of us met whilst studying our undergraduate degrees where the early half of our twenties were spent. The following decade sent some of us across the world, some into marriage, some into parenthood and some back to study.  We watched our milestones turn from twenty-first birthdays to farewells, from our first jobs to our first career change, from moving out to buying houses, from first break ups to forever weddings. We watched our everyday turn from hanging out in the library to thirty-five unread Whatsapp messages in a group chat plus a wedding once, maybe twice in a year. Conversations are had less in person and more via texts, likes on posts and witty Facebook comments. So how do you continue building depth in friendships that no longer have the convenience of a situation (university) to support it, ten years on?

Here’s something I learnt this weekend: Good conversation grips our hearts the way small talk won’t.

Perhaps it was the pleasant surprise of having so many darn good conversations this weekend or simply that it revealed I need to make space for them; I needed to jot down some quick points to remind myself. Perhaps they are helpful for you too.

Quality not quantity

Despite not having weekly catch ups or even monthly for that matter, good conversation can grow a friendship in ways we ought to think more about. Frequency is worth thinking through, but it shouldn’t be the ultimate measurement.

Make the time

Like with anything good, conversation takes work. It takes time. You cannot be anxious about how this conversation is delaying you from something else. As soon as that nature of thought enters your mind, you are on the small talk highway to ‘wrap it up’. Make time. Holidays are great breeding ground for good conversation.

Not self-service

I’m just going to put this out there: we love talking about ourselves. But here’s the thing – every good dialogue consists not of two or more monologues fighting for airtime, but of two or more people listening well and asking questions. This helps us map out what the other person is sharing against the story of who they were (existing friendship), who they are now (what they’re sharing) and who they will become. Conversation is more than an exchange of information; it is where friendship grows. Compassion, empathy, excitement, despair, grief, celebration – these things are explored together when shared.

Listening demonstrates investment – I am not listening to formulate a response to keep this dialogue going, but so that I can understand you better as a person. I promise you it makes for much livelier conversation. It’s nice when the favour is returned but try not to let that determine how well you listen. Your character is not the responsibility of others. In the end, character can make or break a friendship.

On that slightly strange note, I shall end.

It is with gratitude I put down these thoughts; there have been many in my life who have modelled good listening and question asking – to them I credit much of the depth in our friendships.