When you meet someone new, your first conversation can go one of two ways. It can be a light-hearted exchange that climaxes in hearty laughter and discovery which leads to a fulfilling relationship, or it can grind along as a painfully awkward combination of mechanical courtesies and tasteless chatter, leaving moments of dead space filled by screaming silence. I have been there. I think we’ve all have. Here are 15 tips you can use to make each conversation a pleasant experience.
- Approach each conversation with the right attitude – Before you even open your mouth, you speak with your body language. You give off certain clues which gives the other person subconscious clues as to how you are feeling and how you might act in a conversation. It’s not enough to manipulate your body to pattern an open person’s body language. It starts in your mind. Focus your mindset to think the best of the potential conversation. I usually tell myself, “Each person I meet can lead me to a life-changing opportunity.”
- Lead with any common interests – It’s is of utmost that the conversation leads with common interests. It sets the general tone for the rest of the conversation. Socrates taught that if you get your audience to start the conversation off saying “yes” their minds would generally continue with the agreeable attitude for the rest of the conversation.
- Find and honest way to compliment them – Compliments help to loosen people up because they satisfy one of the most critical human needs. The need for significance / importance. When you show genuine admiration for the other person, you let them know that they have nothing to worry about. They won’t be judged. This will help to rid the conversation of some tough barriers allowing free speech.
- Ask open ended questions – One trap I used to fall into was asking questions that could be answered with “yes” or “no.” Combined with a first impression, a nervous person could retreat to giving one-word answers. Avoid “Do” and “Are” questions and ask more “How, Why,What,When, and Where” questions.
- Be relaxed – Approach the conversation with a loose body, and a calm disposition. Continue speaking with a pretty even temper. Try not to take anything too personally. Try not to be too sensitive. Be forgiving and positive and you will buffer the surges and dips of your conversation.
- Be transparent – Especially if a. you are at an event with other friends and co-workers or b. you end up building a rapport with your conversation partner, you have to be truthful. Generally, you want your mind, mouth, and body to say the same thing at the same time. Be you and not anyone else. If the real you is not good enough for them, move on to another person. You are worth it!
- Lean in- Getting closer gives a strong body language statement of interest. You let the other person know that you think what they are saying is that important. There goes that word again. It really satisfies people emotionally.
- Use the charm triangle – In charm school, they teach students to scan the face slightly to show interest and intrigue in the individual. Start at one of the eyes, then look across to the other, and then look at the mouth / nose. Repeat it over and over. It’s a small enough distance between the features to show eye movement without focusing uncomfortable attention to any one part.
- Avoid sensitive topics – Try to stay away from topics like SSN numbers, house address, and other intimate information that could evolve into a tense discussion. Remember, you want agreement. You don’t want tension.
- Focus on topics you sense the other person likes talking about – People love talking about themselves, and I’m no different. We all want to know that people are as interested in us as we are in them. Listen for the voice inflection of passion and interest and stay on the topics that they are most excited about.
- Read their body language – Don’t get too analytical but use certain cues like folded arms, distracted or rolling eyes, shoulders turned away from you, broken eye contact to get feedback on the conversation. People who meet for the first time rarely have courage to speak candidly about what they are really feeling. You can save yourself the embarrassment and even recover from an awkward spot if you gather the right feedback from their actions.
- Maintain eye contact – The eyes are the gateways to the soul. Why are car salesmen taught to take off sunglasses when approaching a customer? Because the eyes show whether you are happy, sad, confident or scared, and sometimes whether you are genuine or lying. Hold that connection with the other person. Be careful, though, not to over-stare. That could make them feel uncomfortable. If you must break eye contact, keep it either side to side or down. Looking up appears to be condescending. Lowering eye contact appears non-threatening.
- Smile while you talk – What a way to soften the mood as you talk. So many people think about what they are going to say during a first time conversation and by the looks of it, their brains forget to tell their faces to be happy. Making a small improvement like this can help you maintain a friendly mood.
- Match their mood throughout the conversation – Another body language cue to look out for is the mood and expression in the conversation. If they are excited about the newest sports car and you forget to be, the momentum of the conversation can die down. If they tell you their mother has Cancer, try curb your enthusiasm when you share that your uncle recovered from his.
- Take turns leading the conversation – When a person feels like they are no being heard, they respond by either withdrawing from the talk or becoming defensive. Again, it makes a person feel significant when you let them be free enough to lead the conversation. When it is back in your hands though, you are guiding it away from the dangerous minefields of discussion, and focusing on what they want to talk about.
With these skills, you are officially the Social Commando. You will know how to make the very best of any situation or conversation. Remember that each person can potentially connect you to about 250 other people. What does that mean? Endless Possibilities! Think about that the next time you approach a first-time conversation.