The Art Of Conversing
How often do we pass by our colleagues, seniors, vendors etc and exchange only a smile or a raised eyebrow. Worse is when you have to share an elevator ride with senior management in dead silence – afraid of not sounding profound enough or trivial enough. We tell ourselves, ‘Who has the time to indulge in TP when there are things to do, so that we can rush home to our little ones’. Sadly but true, small talk leaves an impression. Networking forums especially can cause a lot of discomfort to introverts to strike up a conversation with total strangers.
Here are some tips that could probably help you break the deafening silence.
Keep it contemporary
General interest topics are a great way to start a dialogue or debate. Stay updated with current affairs, government, sporting events etc. Make sure your tidbits are both interesting and informative and most importantly, a unique perspective.
Shift the focus
Everyone likes to talk about themselves, all they need is the right cue.
Identify things about the other person that you might be interested in hearing about, and politely ask questions. People love having a chance to discuss their passions or their subjects of expertise. Better yet, is compliment them, their work, their department. Ask questions for clarification. If your conversation partner is talking about an occupation or activity you do not understand, take the opportunity to learn more.
Avoid the obvious
If you are anything like me, you’d detest those who state the obvious like the weather, temperature or worse - fashion.
Use open-ended questions. Skip the simple "yes" or "no" questions. Instead, ask a question that will allow others to talk extensively.
Ask more generic questions at first. Then, gauge their comfort level, if they willing to open up, then you can ask some more personal questions.
Be a genuine listener
Keep eye contact, it indicates respect for the other person and gives him or her the chance to correct your understanding, affirm it or embellish upon it. Paraphrase back what you heard the person say.
Encourage the other person to continue the conversation and not end it abruptly. The person will feel more valued and respected.
Appeal to the funny bones
Tell stories, preferably funny ones. Stories are the spice of life. There's something about an expertly told story that takes us to a different place, allowing us to escape our tiny lives and live a grander existence. Don't be afraid to go to that place in your conversation. A couple things to remember in your storytelling:
1) Take it slow. Don't rush your story. Pause for dramatic effect when you need it. A steady, measured approach will draw out the story and keep your audience enthralled.
2) Transition into your story. "Funny you said that," or "Speaking of hoaxes," or "Actually, something similar happened to me not too long ago" will help the story feel like a natural evolution of the conversation.
3) Tell a reality-based story. In other words, something that actually happened. Truth has a way of being stranger than fiction, and a story that's been fabricated just feels a little more empty than something that actually happened.
4) Always save the punchline for later – practice if you must in your head to ensure anxiety doesn’t get the better of your story.
Everyone has their own style of conversation starters and finishers. Understand your strengths and areas of improvements by observing those around you. Fortunately this is an art which you can master any time anywhere.