What our surveys tell us
“I don’t know what to say” is one of the top challenges people have when starting a conversation with a stranger. In the anonymous surveys that we do prior to presenting our communication and networking training to clients we receive some very honest answers. People tell us that they don’t have anything worthwhile to contribute or they assume others won’t be interested in what they have to say. Even if they start a conversation with some small talk, they may find that they have run out of topics to move the conversation forward after a couple of minutes.
With these tips anyone can become a more confident conversationalist.
Relax and start listening
Don’t worry about leading the conversation. Instead, learn to be a good listener. This requires you to:
- Maintain eye contact. Don’t look around the room or glance at your phone.
- Nod every once and awhile. It’s a nonverbal signal that shows that you are absorbing what the other speaker is saying.
- Speak up occasionally, it reaffirms that you are present: “Good point!” “Interesting, I didn’t know that.” “What was that like?”
At some point, dive in
It’s good to employ these verbal and nonverbal conversational tactics such as those listed above, but at some point you’ll have to actually engage in the conversation. The good news? It’s easier than you think. Ask questions. The sooner you do, the sooner you become part of the conversation.
Don’t give up too soon
By delving deeper into a topic you may find common interests or experiences. Most people give up too early in a conversation and miss the nuggets of information that are waiting just below the surface.
“Most people give up too early in a conversation.”
Ask relevant questions
If you have been focused on what the other person is saying, think of a question to ask so that you can learn more. It’s OK to say, “I don’t much about…”, “To a layman, how can you best explain that technology?” To encourage them to tell you more, add simple keep-the-conversation-going phrases: “That’s fascinating”, “I never thought of it that way”, “Tell me more.” I guess if you are British you can say… “Brilliant!”
Avoid switching gears
Follow the thread of the conversation, because changing topics feels like ‘a tilt’ to the other person unless you figure out a way to turn the conversation in a different direction. It’s called a pivot, but rather than knee-capping the previous conversation, figure out a way to incorporate what the other person was discussing into the “new” conversation. “Johanne, it seems that business is booming in your sector, but I am worried about what is happening in…”
Get rid of that awkward silence
We’ve all been in situations where the conversation just dies. If it happens to you, don’t let too much time pass before someone says something. If it doesn’t feel right to ask a question related to the conversation, you can say, “On another subject, what do you think about…?”
Stay engaged—even when it is challenging
Not all conversations are going to be an intellectually stimulating experience. The discussion may not fall into your personal area of interest, but make it an opportunity to learn something new. This simple shift can make all the difference. If it’s a conversation about the Kardashians…well, good luck with that.
-Written by Gayle Hallgren-Rezac, Judy Thomson and Darcy Rezac, business networking speakers and authors of Work The Pond! Shepa Learning Company
DO YOU GET OUR FREE NETWORKING TIPS? This blog post is based on one we did on Improved Conversations in 2017. If you have not yet signed up for our free weekly Positive Networking® Tips+, you can do so here.
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