Have you ever met someone new and been at a complete loss for what to say?
Do you dread the feeling of a conversation with a long lull in it?
Many people go about starting conversations in the wrong way and will begin by asking questions about a person. They might ask what they do for a living or even what their favorite band is. Some people even struggle with this with their own friends and will ask the question ‘what’s new?’. For many of us, a lot of the time, the answer is ‘not much’.
Very few of these questions will lead to a natural, flowing conversation. We feel the need to get to know someone well, or to know the latest goings on in their lives – but to be honest these are things you can just as easily get from a social media feed.
So, what might be a better question?
Well how about this simple classic: how was your day?
This makes the conversation instantly relevant, recent and casual. What’s more is that it will often result in many more small details that can then be expanded on. If they had a bad day, why? Do they not like work? How long has it been like that?
Another tip for making conversation is to always actually listen to what the person has to say and then to look for these opportunities to expand the conversation and keep it going.
The Little Conversations
Don’t just focus on making conversation with people that you are trying to impress. Recognize the importance of also making conversation with the other people in your life. For instance, when you are greeted by your taxi driver or waiter, how do you respond?
Most of us don’t have time to dive into deep conversation. But what can be nice is just to ask them how they are or how their day is going. You never know who you might meet, or who you might impress.
And if you work in the service industry or any customer-facing role, then make sure that you are doing this and that you are making use of every opportunity to make conversation, to wish someone a good day and to smile.
Building Rapport and Going Deeper
How do you go about building a rapport with someone, or becoming someone’s friend in a short space of time?
The common advice for the former is to try and echo body language. That means that you take up a similar stance to the person you want to build rapport with, you nod when they nod and you try to use similar vocabulary and dialect. This can work but it can also backfire if you aren’t a practiced salesman. It can feel manipulative and weird when it becomes transparent and ultimately, it doesn’t build real relationships.
What will help to make a relationship more real is to take the conversation a little deeper. When meeting a new big client recently who I knew travels a lot, I asked them how their partner responded to them being away from home a lot of the time. They really opened up and they let me know that they had actually just come from an argument with their other half and that they were currently really struggling with it. Likewise, you could ask someone what their grander ambitions are for their work, or you could ask them what their proudest achievement is.
Of course, there is a time and a place for this, but opening up helps you to build a deeper connection. Just be ready to open up yourself too – people feel vulnerable letting others get close in this way but if you can expose some sensitive facts of your own too, then it will help to make the conversation feel more balanced and fair.
The Art of Communication
Communication is one of the very most important tools at your disposal when it comes to business, friendships, romance and more.
Communication is what gives you the ability to put across your point of view, to let others know how you’re feeling, to let others know your intent and to be understood. If you lack communication skills, then even the greatest intentions and strategy can fall apart.
The basic goal of communication then is to get a message across and to do this in the most efficient manner possible. That normally means you’re looking to respond quickly with as few words as possible. Good communication means clearly getting over a message in an efficient way.
This is what confuses a lot of people who think that good communication should involve flamboyant language and big words. How do we reconcile these two points?
The reality is that language should never be used to show off how big your vocabulary is. However, what a large vocabulary allows you to do is to convey your message in even fewer words often (‘reconcile’ vs ‘get these points to work together’) and with more nuance. Different words with similar meanings often provide slightly different tones, slightly different expression. This allows you to do all the things we’ve communicated so far – such as better adopting your presentation to the audience at hand, or better complimenting the people you’re speaking with.
- Keep conversation simple and address current concerns
- Let conversation flow naturally, listen to the other person and expand on their points
- Communicate in a succinct manner
- Use vocabulary to add flavor