Earlier I believed that to be able to strike a conversation with anyone, I should have fascinating stories to tell, I should be well read, I should be charismatic and funny. In short I should be James Bond, or someone like him.
Image Credit: Abhisek Pattnaik
However, recently I discovered the secrets to a good conversation.
Last week I read this book: The Charisma Myth, and it had some really interesting insights to offer.
The secret to a good conversation is not you. It is the person you are talking to. Don’t try to sell your own stories, ask them their’s. Asking open ended questions like: “So tell me what’s your story…” or “What is your opinion on…” can really get them talking.
Research suggests that humans can detect disinterest/distraction in just 17 milliseconds! So, just getting the other person to talk does not wrap it up. You have to portray that you are interested in whatever they have to say. Body language and eye contact play an important role in this. Being a good listener can really take you few notches up in any conversation. Avoid excessive nodding and time your umm’s and hmm’s well. Pauses are important too!
Sometimes mirroring body language (with subtleness of course) can make the other person connected to you. The other person feels more comfortable talking to someone who is like them.
So, to recapitulate:
• Make the other person the subject of the conversation
• Ask open ended questions
• Give them all your attention(remember, 17 milliseconds is all you have)
• Be an active listener, avoid excessive nodding and time your umm’s and hmm’s properly
• Always keep the ball in their court, people love talking about themselves
• Mirror body language(be subtle), make them feel you are one of their own
• Express opinions, facts can be boring
• Humor gives you multiple lives in the game of conversation
• Appreciate people whenever possible (the world is full of underappreciated people), without trying to suck up to them or sound obsequious
I am far away from mastering the art of conversation, but I have improved a lot following these techniques.
• When meeting someone for the first time ask them what they like to do, instead of what they do. It will get them excited and spark a conversation.
• Be interested: Ask questions that couldn’t be answered in a single word. For example: “What is it like to live there?”, “What do you like about a particular place/actor/book?” etc.
• Show excitement: Avoid awkward silences, add up excitement in conversation, show curiosity about knowing their experiences and lessons.
• Find hidden passion: Ask little bit personal questions like “What kind of sites do you visit?”, “What cheers you up?” or “How do you celebrate your birthday?”
• Crack jokes: Use your sense of humor as your strength to make them laugh.
I shattered the glass on my MacBook. It looks horrible, but still works.
Whenever a stranger sees my laptop, it’s an immediate conversation starter.
I’ve been meaning to get it fixed, but two years of meeting new people through it has made me unsure if I ever will.
So, if you want a zero effort way to start a conversation, do two things:
1) Break your laptop screen.
2) Use your laptop everywhere.