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  Can a Single Conversation Change Your Relationship Forever?
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Can a Single Conversation Change Your Relationship Forever?

The Skin Deep founder, Topaz Adizes, says yes

Sara Russell


Can one conversation change your relationship forever? Topaz Adizes, founder and executive director of experience design studio The Skin Deep, believes we need to let go of having all the answers and instead get better at asking the right questions.

We’ve all had that swoop in our stomach when someone utters those worry-inducing words, “We need to talk.”

What Is The Skin Deep? 

Director, author, and experience designer Topaz Adizes, through his Emmy Award-winning project The Skin Deep, has filmed over 1,200 conversations in locations around the world, delving into the vulnerable work of communicating authentically with each other.

While humans are inherently social, that doesn’t mean we automatically know how to talk to each other effortlessly or skillfully. Especially when the topic feels sticky or tense.

Adizes says rather than needing to have all the answers in such moments, he prefers to “pull the threads and see what comes out of the conversation.” He says, “I think generally the conversations, at least in terms of exploring the space and going to more vulnerable spaces, it's not about coming to an answer and it's not about coming to a solution. It's about playing on the threads of the emotions and allowing those to become more flexible. Because oftentimes in relationships, when there is tension, we avoid it.”

Many of us are facing chronic scarcity of time, energy, and connection. It’s no wonder when our person sits down to talk with us, we go into the conversation like wrestlers in a ring, ready to grapple it out to get our needs met. But rather than focusing on who’s right or wrong or needing a specific outcome, Adizes is more interested in the space in between.

“The space between is what's unsaid. The space between is the reactions, it's the listening. I think we so often are trained to have answers. We're so often trained to give responses. And little do we create the space for actual listening,” said Adizes. "It's an innate human need to have an emotional connection with someone, not just a physical one or not just an intellectual one, but actually an emotional one so that we feel that our presence. That our being, the fact that we're alive, is reflected in someone else. And we have the powers of communicating that with words, but also with presence and also by listening.”

How the Space Between Listening and Reacting Creates Stronger Relationships

According to Adizes, the space inbetween is what creates the container for the relationship.

“The relationship is not you or I, us or them, it's you and I, us and them,” said Adizes.

This space is at the heart of The Skin Deep’s first project, {THE AND}, an Emmy-Award winning digital dose of humanity that documents and illuminates human connection. Witnessing how relationships of all kinds navigate their complicated and tender dynamics gives viewers a chance to recognize we’re not alone in our feelings and struggles, and also to see possible new solutions in how we respond. Depending on how much curiosity and care we approach a conversation with can determine whether we gravitate towards or away from each other. Adizes likens it to a magnetic field.

 “If you have two magnets in your hands and you bring them together, you can feel the pull. If you rotate one side you could feel the push. Now you feel that but you don't necessarily see anything between the magnets. But there's a magnetism there, there's a push and a pull,” said Adizes. “That same thing exists between all of us, not just between humans, but also with nature. And the conceit of {THE AND}, which really speaks about the space between us, [is] what if we can…illuminate the threads that bind us.”

How to Create Deeper Connections at Home

If all this sounds compelling, {THE AND} is also available as a card game that you can experience at home. While some games are about “winner takes all”, Adizes offers, “A game does not necessarily have to have a winner, even though many games do. But you also have games that are simply experiential. And that's what {THE AND} is. There's no, I’m gonna win, there's no winning, it's just exploration.I think in our society we're always, What's the result, what's the result, what's the result? What's the answer, what's the answer, what's the answer? We don't spend enough time on the questions. Ask really good questions and you come up with incredible gifts that allow you to practice your connection with someone else, allow you to practice the ability to communicate your feelings with someone else.”

Humans are hard-wired to crave connection. But we often want someone to listen before we offer to listen, or we want to be understood while failing to understand. This makes sense: we want to know we’re safe before we show our tender underbellies.

Adizes reminds us that, “We fear that by being vulnerable and by actually asking for what we want, we might lose whatever connection we have. But maybe that connection is a facade, maybe that connection is superficial. And so we fear taking the greater risk of vulnerability. We fear taking a greater risk of demanding more from our relationships or from demanding more from ourselves to show up. And so if we embark on that and we dive into it by creating powerful spaces, safe spaces, facilitated by powerful questions that are well constructed, we can actually find a deeper connection. We can actually find that thread that reaffirms what it means to be alive and what it means to be human and illuminates humanity, right? Because humanity, I think, exists between us.”

You can find out more about Adizes’ work at as well as the book The Twelve Questions for Love to be released in January 2024 with Penguin Random House.

Sara Russell is the host of MUD\WTR's Trends w/ Benefits podcast.

Photo by Etienne Boulanger on Unsplash

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