Imagine yourself at a friend’s wedding. There, you meet a friend of a friend of a friend.
Now, how do you get past the initial introductions?
Meeting new people is a great way to add value and diversity to your life. Getting up the courage to talk to people can be a little scary, but once you start getting to know the person, you’ll be glad you did.
Let’s face it.
Whether you’re an introvert, an extrovert, or an ambivert – we’ve all been there.
When the pressure is too much, we find ourselves struggling about what to say. It’s undeniable that at one time or another, we experienced being at loss for words.
Most of the time, these situations are deemed awkward, nerve-wracking, or embarrassing. And it’s perfectly normal to feel that way.
Normally, this is caused mostly because you’re thrown into a conversation before common ground has been found. It’s entirely difficult to keep the interaction going naturally because we are not confident about what to talk and not to talk about.
The good news is that there are techniques that you can utilize for these exact moments. Add a little social psychology to a person-centered approach and you have the perfect formula for mastering conversation making!
Here are the golden nuggets to help you talk about anything with anyone and improve your interpersonal communication skills:
Conversation is a two-way street. You have to listen as much as you talk.
When you’re confronted with dead moments, try not to always fill it with chatter about yourself. You can never go wrong when you “listen first, talk second”.
When you and the one you’re talking to take turns to actually listen to each other, things will flow more naturally. You’ll also have more time to observe and read people.
2. Don’t be judgmental
When you’re quick to judge people and situations, you hinder the natural process of communication.
The next time you find yourself talking to someone, step back and truthfully assess your beliefs when interacting. An open mind is needed to improve your communication skills.
3. Be empathetic
Try to put yourself in the shoes of the speaker. People love to be seen and heard so when you empathize with them, they will feel comfortable in your presence.
In turn, it will make the conversation flow naturally.
4. Watch for nonverbal cues
Communication also includes the body language so take note of your companion’s nonverbal cues.
Whatever you’re feeling inside, try to refocus your attention. It is important to notice how the other person is feeling based on that person’s body language.
For example, if you think that the person is uncomfortable with where the conversation is heading, change the topic. This is particularly common when the talk is about politics, religion, and sex.
Not everyone enjoys a heavy subject, some people would rather keep things light. What is important is that you learn how to gauge the impact of what you’re saying.
This can be done by reading the other person’s bodily cues such as posture, eye contact, and hand movements.
5. Don’t assume people will agree with you
According to research on social psychology, most of us engage in the “assumed similarity bias.” It refers to the mental shortcut that leads us to the unconscious assumption that others share the same or similar values, thoughts, and beliefs.
The next time you have a conversation, do not conclude that just because you like a particular person, then the person you’re talking to have the same views about that same person.
Additionally, do not force people to accept, or “like” your opinions. Because everyone has the right to their own.
6. Learn from each interaction
Every person is unique in terms of experiences and perspectives. The person you’re talking to may have been to places and done things that you haven’t yet or will never do.
People can give you a new outlook on life or add to your existing ones. Do not waste time and show that you’re interested in them.
It only takes a listening ear and interest for you to expand your knowledge of other regions, cultures, and nations. Armed with this new information, you can become a more interesting conversationalist as well.
7. Be well-read and well-informed
You cannot share what you don’t know. If you do, people will stay away from you.
If you want to know a variety of topics for a good conversation starter, start reading or familiarizing yourself with what is happening today.
Current events are absolutely the best way to have enough topics to bring up in any conversation. Of course, you don’t have to be expert with what you’re talking about.
Just let the person know that you have a little bit of knowledge about it. It will prompt the person to share what he or she knows. That’s a conversation right there!
Even knowing what the number one box office hit or the top song in MTV is better than knowing nothing, don’t you think?
8. Don’t overshare
Do you believe in the adage below?
” Sometimes, the biggest secrets you can only tell a stranger.” – Michelle Hookin
They say it’s easier to tell a stranger your secrets because you will never see them again.
Well, here’s a fact. The world has changed.
With cheap flights, the stranger you’ve shared your secret with might be crossing your path again a month after. Who knows?
And don’t get me started with the power of social media. Surely, you’re not a stranger to seeing how quickly personal secrets can spread on the internet.
Nobody wants their secrets to go viral, right?
9. Step out of your comfort zone
Becoming a good conversationalist is a skill. You can definitely learn it.
So when you think that you often find yourself getting nervous around strangers, force yourself to learn how to talk to people.
There’s no need to go big at once. Start taking small steps like offering your input during meetings.
10. Ask open-ended questions
The fastest and easiest way to make people talk is to ask open-ended questions. Those that are answerable with yes or no are not really recommended especially if you haven’t found any common ground yet with the person.
Because communication is a two-way process, it is better if you shift the focus from yourself to the other person through asking. If you don’t know, open questions begin with who, what, where, when, and how.
The next time you find yourself struggling what to talk about, just put a “what” or “how” in front of your thought. Another tip is to say “tell me more” to keep the conversation open and interesting.
11. Don’t try to impress
Most people believe that a good conversation means making a great impression.
In reality, this isn’t really the case. Sometimes, you don’t need to be meaningful for people to be interested in you. Just say whatever it is that you want to say.
At the end of the day, what matters is that you are real to yourself.
12. Rephrase what’s been said
One thing that can stop a conversation going on is when you can’t relate to the topic they’re talking about. If you have little knowledge only about the subject, it can make you feel awkward.
A good technique when you’re confronted with this situation is to rephrase what the other person has said. In other words, you are clarifying their words.
If you do this, it will show that you’re interested in and listening to what they’re saying. As such, they may also become eager to tell you more because of your interest.
13. Talk about food
If all else fails, have a conversation about food. It might sound funny but it’s a great conversation starter.
Heck, even people who are fasting can tell you a thing or two!
14. Don’t be a “know-it-all”
Having a breadth of knowledge can make it easier to converse with different types of people. However, it is not necessary.
So don’t try too hard to know everything or else you’ll be known as a know-it-all. These people have a tendency to dominate conversations which can result in a backlash.
15. Keep it simple
You don’t have to have a great opening line in order to start talking to someone. You can start by saying something as basic as “Hi” or “How are you?”. The other person will often take it from there and keep the conversation going.
- You can make a simple statement about yourself. After a challenging spinning class, say to the person next to you, “Wow, I’m going to be sore later.”
- By keeping things simple, you are starting the conversation, but allowing the other person to help you get things started. It also takes some of the pressure off of you to find something clever to say.
16. Avoid over-sharing
When you are trying to start a conversation, it is important that you do not make the other person feel awkward. Many people have a tendency to babble or chat nervously when making small talk. This can lead to a common social problem known as over-sharing.
- Unless you are talking privately to someone you know well, it’s best to avoid sharing sensitive information about yourself. For example, don’t try to start a conversation by telling a casual acquaintance the results of your most recent checkup at your gynecologists office.
- People often feel uncomfortable when you share personal information. The cashier at the grocery store likely does not want to hear that your teenage daughter is not performing well at school. When you are starting a conversation, stay away from potentially sensitive subjects.
17. Know when not to talk
Sometimes silence can feel awkward. Your natural inclination might be to fill that silence with chit chat. However, there are times that it is best to stay silent.
- If you are bored on an airplane, you might want to entertain yourself by talking to your seatmate. But if she is giving you certain social cues, find another way to amuse yourself.
- If someone is avoiding making eye contact, that is a sign she doesn’t feel like talking. Someone who is reading or listening to headphones is probably also content to remain silent.
18. Be genuine
Don’t try to force a conversation. Instead, try talking about something that you genuinely care about. If you are feigning interest, it will usually be evident.
- At a dinner party, strike up a conversation with someone who shares your interest. For example, you could say, “Mike, I hear you just got a new bike. I love going on trail rides.”
- When you are at your daughter’s soccer game, try talking to another parent about the new coach. For instance, “I feel like Haley is responding well to the extra practice time. How’s Mary handling it?”
19. Reach out to other people
The more people that are involved in a conversation, the less pressure there is on you. Take steps to involve others in your group. For example, if you are eating in the cafeteria at work, reach out to your coworker who is looking for a place to sit. Say, “Hey, Lucy, would you like to join Tim and I?”
- You can also do this in social situations. Maybe you are making small talk with an acquaintance at a cocktail party. If you see someone standing alone nearby, draw them into your circle. Say, “Wow, this shrimp is fabulous. Have you had a chance to try it yet?”
- Drawing others in to your conversation is not only polite, but it can help keep the conversation moving along. The more people that are involved, the more you will find to talk about.
20. Changing Topics
A 5-minute conversation can be on a single topic. But long conversations typically need to go through several topics. If you want to have long conversations, which tend to build the deepest connections with people, it’s important to move it from one topic to another.
When you feel the topic you’re discussing is drying out, don’t let the conversation die. Move it to another topic.
My rule of thumb is to try and keep the topics related. For example, after I talked with a person about books for a few minutes, it makes sense to move the conversation to movies, because it’s a related topic. And from one connect topic to another, I can take the conversation anywhere.
However, it is absolutely fine if you sometimes make big shifts in the conversation subject. For example, you move from books to “So, what do you do for a living?” That’s also a normal part of conversation. Just don’t do it every 30 seconds.
By asking questions, sharing information and changing topics, you effectively make a conversation happen. You get to know the other person, they get to know you, you cover a range of topics, and you connect with each other.
How to talk to people? Here are some words to ponder…
For a conversation to happen, there is really no need to overthink. Because a good conversation is not made up of words alone.
At the very heart of communication, it is truly about connecting with the other person.
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