By Jyoti Chauhan

My family and I eat dinner around the table together every day. It gives us a chance to ask each other how our days have been and talk/argue about what’s going on in the world (we’re also privy to shouting at the TV trying to answer questions on quiz shows during dinner too). Dining at the table gives us a chance to talk if we’ve all been busy at work or out all day and just gives us some family time together. This is a tradition that I love and will definitely continue. We don’t always have to have deep, meaningful conversations – just being together and interacting is sometimes all you need. We’ve had a lot of important conversations around our dinner table; the same is also true with friends.

Perhaps there’s something comfortable about a dinner table that allows people to be honest and open and facilitates important conversations. The intimacy and the family feeling of being gathered around a table eating good food and sharing stories usually makes for memorable moments and heartfelt conversations. There are many different settings which can facilitate good conversations. They can be had at a friends house over a cup of tea, on a lunch break at work, on a long road trip with the radio humming in the background, on holiday and certainly after a few too many drinks. When you’re drunk you lose your inhibitions and when the filters disappear, honesty often reappears. Our walls come down and bonds are formed (if we remember them the next day). I’m sure I’m not alone in saying I’ve had some life affirming conversations with strangers in bathrooms.

Sometimes it’s easier to open up to a stranger than to people you know. I think this stems from fear of being vulnerable and people having some sort of expectation from you to be a certain way. Perhaps fear of disappointing people, fear of worrying people or fear of being too honest. Welcoming honesty is a huge part of creating a great conversational space. And I don’t mean being cruel – I think some people try and pass off being mean as them ‘just being honest’ but you can be honest whilst also being kind and considering other people’s feelings. The greatest conversations I’ve had are when people are honest with me and in turn, I am honest with them. This can sometimes only happen in an environment where there is no judgement. Where there is no chance that you’ll get laughed at or kicked down or mocked for baring your soul and telling your truth. A safe space.

This safe space allows people to be open and vulnerable without fear. It allows people to bring their guard down and to feel comfortable to be their authentic selves. I also believe that there’s a certain level of empathy required to create a safe space – a level of kindness and compassion so people can feel heard. We will never truly understand some experiences unless we have lived them but we can always empathize and listen. I mean really listen. Not just listening so we can reply. Sometimes we listen just so we can respond or counter with our own stories or experiences. Sometimes we need to listen so the other person can feel heard. We impatiently wait for our turn to speak whilst formulating what we’re going to say instead of listening properly. Sound familiar? Of course it does, we’re only human and this is an act we need to consciously stop ourselves from doing.

Listening is such a huge part of creating a space in which people feel respected, it’s important not to talk over one another and let people say their piece and finish their sentences. Let’s be honest, we can all struggle with this especially when we’re excited or angry or passionate. However, this is sometimes when the quieter, more reserved voices in a group get intimidated or feel too overpowered to voice their opinions. Never dim your light or passion for anyone but also be aware of how important it is to create a space in which everyone feels heard and feels comfortable to speak.

This can sometimes be difficult in a work environment because there are different power dynamics in play. I think it’s important for companies to create a space in which staff feel like they can talk and bring up concerns without being reprimanded. Often at work we feel like there might be consequences to challenging the status quo or ‘rocking the boat’, when in reality, sometimes the boat needs to be overturned. You should feel like you’re valued in your company and that your wellbeing is important to the people you work for. You want to feel like a company considers everyone before making big decisions that could impact people negatively. It’s important to facilitate an open, honest and comfortable space in order to create positive change and make sure everyone is heard and valued. I think this is also key to motivating people to do their best work – a simple thank you or a word of appreciation can go a long way. When you feel undervalued whilst well aware of your worth it can create tensions and resentment. Transparent communication is so important in a work environment or in any environment really. It creates trust amongst people, and trust is crucial in creating any safe space.

I think that a great conversation can happen whenever you’re willing to have one. Whether that be at the family table or the table at your favourite restaurant; bathrooms in a nightclub or the bathroom at a house party; road trips in your best friend’s car or a train journey with the person opposite you; laying on the grass in a park or curled up on the sofa in your house.

Think of the great conversations you’ve had and think about the variety of settings where they’ve taken place. A great, comfortable, conversational space needs respect, trust and empathy. A safe space in which people can be heard and voice their honest thoughts without fear, can be created anywhere if you are open to it.

Be open! Why not join the Conversations Salon community? Our Salons are safe spaces for individuals to get together and share in an evening of enriching conversation. There are rules of engagement which ask participants to be the best listener they can be, be respectful of other’s opinions and beliefs, and not to talk over others or talk too much. With conversation we create safe spaces to chat and connect. Why not be a part of it?

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