Understanding the Four Levels
The real art of conversation is not only to say the right thing at the right time, but to leave unsaid the wrong thing at a tempting moment. It requires sensitivity at this stage of a relationship. The context of the conversation and the comfort level of the person you are talking to depend on it.
There are four levels of conversation based on the degree and amount of personal disclosure. They are:
This is commonly referred to as the ‘exchange of pleasantries’ stage. In this level, you talk only about generic topics, subjects that almost everyone is comfortable discussing. These subjects include the weather, the location you’re both in and current events.
The small talk stage establishes rapport; it makes a person feel at ease with you. It’s also a safe and neutral avenue for people to subtly ‘size up’ one another, and explore if it’s a conversation or relationship that they’d want to invest in.
If the small talk goes well, you can proceed into the next level: fact disclosure.
In this stage, you tell the other person some facts about you such as your job, your area of residence, and your interests.
This is a ‘getting-to-know’ stage, and it aims to see if you have something in common with the other person. It’s also a signal that you are opening up a little bit to the other person while still staying on neutral topics.
If the fact disclosure stage goes well, you can proceed to sharing viewpoints and opinions.
Viewpoints and Opinions
In this stage of the conversation, you can offer what you think about various topics like politics, the new business model —or even the latest blockbuster. It helps then to read and be curious about many things, from politics to entertainment to current events.
Sharing viewpoints and opinions require the ‘buffering effect’ of the first two stages for two reasons:
First, a person needs rapport with another before they can discuss potentially contentious statements, even if they’re having a healthy debate.
Second, sharing viewpoints and opinions opens a person to the scrutiny of another, and this requires that there is some level of safety and trust in a relationship.
The controversial, and therefore potentially offensive, nature of an opinion exists in a range; make sure that you remain within the ‘safe’ zone in the early stages of your relationship.
The fourth stage is disclosure and acknowledgment of personal feelings. For instance you can share about your excitement for the new project, or your worry about your son’s upcoming piano recital. Depending on the context and the level of the friendship, you can disclose more personal subjects. This stage requires trust, rapport, and even a genuine friendship, because of the intimate nature of the subject.
Different people have different comfort levels when it comes to disclosing feelings, and there are cases when you’d need several conversations before they would trust enough to open themselves. In some cases, you never get to this stage. Just make sure to be sensitive and test the other person’s readiness before opening an intimate topic.
Listening is vital in all stages of the conversation but especially so in this fourth stage. Listen with empathy and understanding to acknowledge that you heard the feeling that they have shared.
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