July 01, 2020
If you are man looking to start living healthy your thoughts have probably centered on finding the right diet or exercise regimen. Maybe you have consulted your doctor, ordered some running shoes or purchased fitness equipment.
Chances are you haven’t considered your conversational skills or contemplated any connection between your health and the value of a good conversation.
While largely unnoticed, there is a connection, one that can have a significant impact on sustaining your health and well-being. A deeper dive into the social dimensions of health reveals the important role of this overlooked tool.
The connection starts with the understanding that relationships play a major role in a man’s ability to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Those familiar with my motivation-based advocacy for 50-plus men’s health know that the Harvard Study for Adult Development, one of the world’s longest studies of men’s health, is a frequent reference of mine. It concluded that a man’s close relationships protect him from life’s discontents, help to delay mental and physical decline, and are better predictors of long and happy lives than social class, IQ or even genes.
The Mayo Clinic reinforces the Harvard study, suggesting that adults with strong social support have a reduced risk of many significant health problems, including depression, high blood pressure and an unhealthy body mass index. Mayo references the important role that friends have in promoting overall health, specifically advising individuals to listen-up and open-up, and noting that maintaining healthy friendships involves give-and-take.
A look into the gearbox of relationships reveals the key role of conversations: two-way exchanges that differ from talk, a one-way proposition.
According to Alison Wood Brooks of the Harvard Business School, conversations form the bedrock of our relationships, a profound part of the human experience. To share our ideas, thoughts and feelings with each other, we converse face to face and remotely — via phone, email, text message, online comment boards and in contracts. Unfortunately, Brooks finds that most people make conversational mistakes.
Among other factors, the fear of making mistakes can create anxiety about engaging in conversation and a person’s capability to converse. Research by Erica Boothby, of Cornell University, shows that given 20 everyday activities, people consistently rank their ability to have a conversation at the bottom of the list. The same people also rank others as being better than them at casual conversation.
Fortunately, Brooks says this anxiety can be managed by reframing it as excitement and using pre-performance rituals to improve performance. The bottom line is that conversations are at the core of relationships, and relationships have a material influence on our health and well-being. While the ability to converse comfortably remains a challenge for many, the benefits are huge.
Despite a history of dominating communication in the business world, which is thankfully changing, men are notorious for their inability to match women when it comes to personal expressions – sharing feelings, discussing emotions and generally devoting time to conversation.
Notwithstanding the scientific case for the health benefits of conversation-boosted relationships, there are additional, more granular outcomes that can help convince men to take up the banner for verbal exchange. For functional-thinking, efficiency-oriented men, these observations will appeal to their practical instincts with applications for their personal lives as well as business settings.
Conversation is a chance to learn new things and gain new perspectives. A process for growth and a feeling of satisfaction from convening a benefit to the other party. Done properly, a personal conversation can advance your agenda and add to your well-being. Sound good?
Think of conversations as a source of social intelligence. A process that can provide insight to advance a relationship, or allow you assess its quality should that be in question. Whether just getting to know someone, or evaluating a long-term relationship, think of conversations as a means to confirm these foundational dimensions.
• Do we share the same values and interests?
• Are we motivated by the same factors?
• Are our aspirations for the future aligned?
• Is our approach to life and business compatible?
To reap the social and, ultimately, health returns of an investment in your conversation portfolio, here is my framework for maximizing the use of conversations:
1. Create a culture of conversation
Make conversation your go-to mechanism to advance your social relationships and deal with life’s ups and downs. You don’t need to guess what someone else is thinking or theorize why they may be acting a certain way. Remember, it’s a two-way street and ideally a win-win proposition. Moreover, continuous improvement in your conversational skills can become a passion that enhances many aspects of your life.
2. Stay committed
Nothing is easy in life and there will be many times when your instinct will be to shut down and run from conversation. Don’t do it. Hang in there and literally talk it through with your friends and loved ones. Crucial conversations are not meant to be easy, but they are critical in confronting the problems we face and the relationships we want to keep.
3. How you say it is important
Particularly in personal relationships, it’s not just what you say but how you say it. The best intended conversation can go astray because of language, form and the attitude you convey. This is no small thing.
4. Nothing Is Off the Table
A core value of conversations is the ability and willingness of both parties to address any and all subjects. Openness to the most sensitive topics is a must.
Sustaining a healthy lifestyle requires continuous motivation that can grow over time as our lives evolve and men need increasing amounts of inspiration. Conversations empower our relationships, keeping them current. They produce a social currency which buys meaning and purpose, and ultimately a sustaining level of motivation.
That said, in America’s current social context, where unrest has prompted a call for larger, community-based conversations, the ability to develop your conversational skills could prove to be particularly handy. Think of it as an added dividend for an investment in yourself and the many conversations that lie ahead.