Conversation: How to Talk to People
I hear this a lot: “I’m just so awkward. I really don’t like talking to people. I don’t even know what to say most of the time.”
I hear ya, and with everyone’s faces stuck in their cell phones (*guilty*), the situation’s not about to get any better. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stop trying. And that certainly doesn’t mean we should stop talking to each other. Humans are, after all, social creatures. Even the most introverted of us needs to connect every once in a while.
First, the cell phone thing. When I’ve got my cell phone in my hands, I try to remember this: when I’m paying attention to my cell phone and other people are around, I’m telling them that whatever’s on my phone is more important than they are. This means my kids are getting the message that my Facebook wall is more important than them, my husband is getting the message that funny memes are more important than him, my friends are getting the message that texting other friends to make plans for tomorrow is more important than spending time with them here and now. You get the idea. Is that the way I want to spend my life? Is that the person I want to be – who you want to be? Nah. We strive to be better all the time.
Put down the phone and engage. Engaging takes effort and energy, I know. But you’re going to go to bed feeling better about yourself at night.
So, in a larger sense, how do we become better engagers? How to we strike up conversations with people? How do we keep those conversations going?
Rules of Engagement: (That’s it for the engagement jokes. Maybe.) First of all, listen. And don’t listen for your chance to talk. That’s a big one. Pay attention once to a conversation you’re having and notice what you’re doing. You’re waiting for them to stop talking so you can start, right? That’s what most of us do, unless we’ve worked hard to stop doing it. Relax, listen, ask questions. Have you ever been in a conversation with someone who’s really invested in what you’re saying? They ask questions about you, they really seem to care, and they’re interested. It feels amazing, and you walk away with such a positive feeling about them. You don’t have to go that far, but think about how it feels to be on the opposite end of that: when someone won’t stop talking about themselves, you can’t get a word in, and you’ve forgotten what your own voice sounds like. You avoid conversations with people like that – no one wants to be friends with people like that, and you avoid them at all costs. Everyone knows “that” person, and we dread being caught in the hall with them.
Rule 2: Don’t be a know-it-all. Admit what you don’t know. This is a good rule for life in general, too. Have you ever spoken to someone who, no matter what you say, they’ve done it too, read it too, had it too, etc.? It gets old fast. It’s also pretty transparent. No one wants to hang out with a one-upper. Shhhh. Listen more. Pay attention to what you’re saying.
Rule 3: Read more. Good conversationalists are well-read. It makes you talk fancy-like, makes you more interesting, and can shift your thinking. Audiobooks work too, so no excuses.
Rule 4: Pay attention to body language (I’m going to blog about this soon). If someone is slowly backing away from you, they’re done. There are other cues, of course, but pay attention to the big things and see if you can tell interest level by these non-verbal signs.
Rule 5: Don’t sweat the details. If you’re stalling the conversation trying to remember the date something happened, remember this instead: no one cares. Does it really matter if you went to California in 2014 or 2015? No. “A few years ago” works. This is a small form of torture for me, watching someone struggle to remember a date, drawing it out over several minutes, even coming back to it later in the conversation.
There are many other “rules,” which are more what you’d call “guidelines” than actual rules (where my “Pirates” fans at?), but you get the idea. Listen more. Pay attention to what you’re saying.
And hey – if you happen to fall into a conversation with me, please don’t judge. I’m a work in progress. I really started working on conversation skills only in summer of 2016. No…fall of ’17. No, it was summertime because the kids were off school. Maybe it was the year before…? No, couldn’t have been because my husband was working his other job then. So it had to have been 2016. It was late summer, though, because we were school clothes shopping. So yeah, it had to have been August 2016 that I really started working on conversation skills. No, that’s not right, because that was the year we missed the no tax sale on school supplies, and the kids had to start school with last year’s crayons…
There are some great links about conversation here, here, and here, and I would be remiss if I didn’t include this TED talk – it’s excellent. Educate yourself. It just feels good, man.