The secret behind great conversations
“I will not be defined by other people” is a statement that we often say to ourselves and hear from others. It is an act of defiance, asserting that you, by yourself, mainly control who you are and who you will become. But we live in this planet with other people, encounter them in various ways and depths, all the time. How much of our encounters with others define who we are and who we become? Evidence says a lot more than we care to admit.
When you connect with someone, that connectedness is echoed in your heart, brain, respiration and even in the way you perceive pain. Our bodies and minds literally synch with the person you encounter and behold.
Many years ago, on separate occasions, two of my closest friends got married. Both asked me to sing exactly the same song in their own weddings: One Hand, One Heart from West Side Story. Both wanted that same song which peaks with this line “Make of our hearts, one heart.” I liked singing the song because I thought it was a good metaphor for two people committing to each other to entwine their lives. But Leonard Bernstein, composer of that song, probably did not know that that line was real in more ways than just metaphorical.
When you are in a romantic relationship with someone, in a world where you have to wade through a lot of muck and lot of other people, you are not a stranger or in these days, a pixel in a crowded image, to your beloved and vice versa. Among the many things that echo this is your hearts beat at the same rate. Yes, science has found that lovers’ heart rates synch even when just staring at each other. Your hearts literally beat as one. This kind of synching was also found to calm lovers. It also made me think whether this is a definitive test of whether you are still in love with someone – if you no longer have this constant feeling that you are beating as one when you are alone together.
This kind of synching among lovers is also found to be true when partners touch each other. A recent study has found that when you are in pain and your beloved touches you, you feel less pain. Their heart and respiration rates synch too. This does not happen when strangers touch each other.
But “synching” is not limited to romantic relationships. Uri Hasson is a neuroscientist who studies what happens to brains of people when they are in a conversation. He found that people have similar brain patterns as they listen to each other. The deeper or multi-faceted the exchange is, the more (deeper) brain areas are in synch. This is why when someone talks to you about their passions, their dreams, their expressions of love, you “get” it. It is because you literally really get it. You assume the same brain patterns as the one conveying them to you. In his talk, he even showed that this is the same when you are in the audience listening to someone tell you a story. The audience who is listening assumes the same brain patterns as the one telling the story on stage. This is also what happens when you watch a movie. We all assume the same brain patterns as the filmmaker when he was doing and telling that story. This is what is also happening when you are with your friends and you are all listening to each other’s stories. There is an internal humming that we all become part of but are not really conscious of.
Brain patterns are reflective of how our brain cells connect. How our brain cells connect is how we think and feel. How we think and feel is who we are and lay the path to the many selves we could become. Therefore, as Uri Hasson has shown us in his work above - tell me who you couple with and I will tell you who you are. This is why with whom and what you spend a lot of time says a great deal about you. The kind of friends you spend the most time with, the work and team members you labor with, the teachers and mentors who guide you – they wire you , i.e., they recreate you. So while you really cannot judge a book by its cover, we can somehow judge ourselves by the people we choose to spend the most time with because they literally mess with our heart and minds.
This does not mean that the only virtue in conversation is to have it with people who think like you. On the contrary, it happens to people who are willing to engage in a dialogue – where you allow yourselves to have an exchange, including the alternating silences, that allow each of you to also listen to each other, sorting out differences. In this kind of exchange, as Hasson says, a common ground is found and the synching happens. And it is important to note that these studies were done with people who paid close attention to each other directly. Even the ones who were watching the movie were focused on only the movie.
That is what is lost in online posting. All these wouldn’t have as much gravitas if we shield ourselves from people with the tiny screens we hold in our hands even as we attempt to connect with someone. We cannot have a real dialogue if you are constantly having a conversation with your screen. And online posting is not a real conversation because it does not allow for an exchange but for a bazaar of voices, relevant or not, to have their split-second online fame.
No matter how much we think of ourselves, we are only as good as the parts that we can share with others. Whom will you synch with today? – Rappler.com