Recently I was at a party and I got into a fascinating conversation about using an AK47. I was speaking with a woman in her mid-fifties and while she was wearing pearls that evening, I’d uncovered a past full of journalism, law, war, love and what retirement felt like for her. This is the kind of conversation I like to have when meeting strangers.
How can we get more out of our conversations?
1. No need to multitask
Sometimes when I host a party I can busy myself in the kitchen so that people are following me around as they’re trying to have a conversation. I only realised I wasn’t really listening when I had my head far into the dishwasher while a friend told me about their recent struggle with a pet dying. I lifted my head out of the dishwasher and said, ‘How is Scruffy?’ You can assume the rest. Be present. Stay still. Listen in.
2. No need to say it again
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I’ve already heard that story. Better conversation comes from a place of authenticity. We all have our favourite stories but are we using them as material on rotation? Go with the flow. A conversation needs space to expand and contract. We don’t need to fill in the gaps. Be organic and present. Your story will present itself without force if you just let it be. Plus, there’s nothing worse than when someone says, ‘oh, is this when you realised you only had one sock on and the toaster exploded?’ Your punchline lost in the ether. Why are you sharing that story? Because you want the person to know or because you always share the same story for strangers? If it’s the latter then try relaxing and start asking questions.
3. So much easier if you ask
‘Do you like the beach?’
This question is a lot different to, ‘What do you like about the beach?’
Can you hear how someone responds when they’re asked an open ended question?
A better conversation turns up when we ask someone to describe how they felt, what they liked and how it’s made a difference to them.
Another good line that sparks conversation is, ‘That’s interesting. Why do you say that?’
People want to tell you and their answers are fascinating. This requires us to listen and not to be in competition with the person we are speaking with. Just keep asking questions. Usually, the person will feel so stoked about your interest that they’ll be interested in you. Feels good, doesn’t it?
4. I just don’t know
I’m trying this new technique out called ‘I don’t know. Tell me about it’
‘You must know! The place with the castle, c’mon. You knooooooow!’
‘No. I don’t know. Tell me about it.’ It felt strange when I said I don’t know.
In the past, I always know and even if I didn’t know I wouldn’t want the person I was speaking with to know that I don’t know!
Turns out to not know makes for better conversation. Instead of walking away from the conversation wondering where that place with the castle is I can find the answer with the person who knows about it by being honest.
It’s that simple. Repeat after me, ‘I don’t know about that. Tell me about it.’
5. Me. Me. Me
It’s all about Me. Or is it? The other day, a friend said to me, ‘Did you know Anne Frank and Martin Luther King Jr were born the same year?’ (mind blown).
A good conversation is when I’m surprised by you. I don’t need to talk about myself or about other people to make myself or the conversation interesting. Nor do I need to equate my experience with yours. I can go with the flow and ask lots of questions. The more I find out about you, the less energy I can spend pontificating or proving myself, and the more time I have to enjoy myself. A give and take chat leads it to being a shared experience and you never know, you might just find out something new. Something you’ve never thought of before and it could just blow your mind.