Dear Paul: My mother has asked me to call my younger sister regularly from college. Emily isn’t very talkative, so I’m wondering if you have any advice about how to make this work. Thanks, Stephan
It’s wonderful that you are open to this request from your mother. Many older brothers simply forget how much their younger siblings look up to them.
Given that relationships are, in essence, a series of conversations, it is important to be thoughtful about the best way to construct some of those conversations.
It’s also important to set up definite times to talk—and do everything you can not to miss a call.
Consider the following structure for your conversations with Emily:
The first week, you should share first for about 10 minutes. That is, imagine you are responding to this question from your sister: “Stephan, what did you do this week?” Tell her about what you accomplished, the fun you had, the things that didn’t go well, things you learned, things you found yourself worrying about. Just keep reflecting on your week and finding new things to share. Over time, you’ll find that you will want to keep notes about what happens throughout the week so you can remember them in your call.
Then ask your sister to tell you about her week. When she finishes one thought, just wait. If you feel compelled to say something, try “What else?” When appropriate, make short declarations to let her know you are following the conversation. Try: “Cool,” “OK,” “Got it,” “Good…” But mostly just listen and wait. One watch out—don’t jump in with advice about what she should do unless she specifically asks for it. When people are sharing, the value is in the sharing. This is not about problem solving or looking for help. This is just talking with your sister.
At the end of the conversation, thank her for talking with you and tell her a couple of things you got out of or liked about the conversation. Perhaps, “I appreciated that you told me about….” or “I never thought about that before—that’s cool.” This lets her know that you valued the conversation and what she said. Very important.
Then the next week you can ask her to go first. Sometimes, going first gets the conversation started and helps the other person know how to respond.
Since Emily loves to listen, she will likely be slower to begin to speak. By taking the lead for a while, you help her get an understanding of what kinds of things she might talk about. With her, you are going to have to be more direct, such as “Emily, it’s your turn. I want to hear about your week, too.” Then learn to tolerate the pauses in the conversation. In life, you’ve got to learn to be willing to wait longer than the other person.
Again, let her know at the end of each conversation that you appreciate talking with her. And send her a text the next day thanking her again!
Good luck, and thank your for your question.