Isn’t life mostly about social interactions?
We meet new people everyday, sometimes every hour. And it becomes vital that we have the ability to communicate with these new people. While most of us are comfortable meeting others from shared backgrounds and cultures, we do not have that luxury in the real world. The folks we get to interact with have diverse walks of life, which is exactly what makes life fun.
To make such interactions fun and easy, I would like to share some techniques that I picked up a few years ago and found hugely beneficial:
- Small talk after the introductory ‘Hi’
- Learning the other person’s background
- Starting a conversation
- Keeping the conversation going
You’ve met someone for the first time, exchanged greetings, but stuck right there? If the other person needs no tips on oral communication, he/she is going to start a conversation that could possibly extend longer. However, each of us must be prepared to make small talk. The trick is to sense the person’s mood by venturing simple questions like “Nice party, huh?” If she responds with “Yeah, this is great. I love this” and goes on to talk more, that’s a hint the person is probably an extrovert with a liking for crowds. And the tone of voice tells you their current mood. If the tone happens to be a bit dull, maybe he/she has had a bad day – and that gives you the opportunity to empathize. Say comforting things like “Happens to us all” which will in fact brighten up the person’s day, even if just momentarily.
Getting To Know
Once you start chatting about this and that, it’s time to get to know each other in order to build conversation. Generally, we all want to know two basic things: where people come from, and what their profession is.
Asking people where they come from might sound easy, but we want to talk, not carry out a Q&A session. When you ask this question and the person tell you their city, make sure you follow it up with facts or interesting news about the city. For instance, you ask “Where are you from?” and get an answer “Washington, DC”, just augment the conversation with stuff like “Wow, DC was designed by the same guy who designed Paris”. This opens up a variety of topics such as beauty of cities, places to visit in Paris or Europe, perfume, etc. However, such facts can be thrown in only if you have enough general knowledge that comes from extensive reading. Similarly, when you are asked the question of place, respond with the name of the city along with a fact or trivia. It makes for interesting talk.
Next, the question about a person’s occupation. It could be terribly uncivilized to ask “So what do you do?” or “What is your profession?”. A polite way to do this is to pose the question “How do you spend most of your time?”. That makes your conversation partner tell you about his work, though you never asked him explicitly. And when you are faced with the same question whether directly or indirectly, do not respond with a one-word answer. Instead, what I’d say is “Well, I’m a software engineer and I design web sites. The most recent one I built is my personal page www.karthikselvaraj.tumblr.com.” This kind of answer gives people the chance to relate to or understand what you do, even if they are nowhere near your line of work.
Building A Conversation
Most of us get past the small talk and getting to know parts, but building a real and sustainable conversation is an arduous task. However, it is easy with the following technique. During the small talk, we should pick up cues from our conversation partner’s words and associated moods. Say, you found her utter “This room has an excellent design” – which is an indicator that she has an interest in interior design. Here is your big chance to continue the conversation on the lines of that subject and auxiliary topics such as ambience, lighting, furniture, etc.
It is at such times that the reading habit comes really handy. When you read widely and wildly, you know a little about everything, or maybe even a lot about many a thing. Great sources to pick up such general knowledge are magazines like People and Fortune, web sites like Reddit, and smart phone apps like Flipboard and Verge.
Sustaining The Conversation
We’ve all been through those moments when it is our turn to talk and we just don’t know what to say. It can be rather awkward to get stuck like this. An easy and effective way to avoid such a situation is to just parrot your conversation partner’s last few words in a questioning tone. He said, “My wife wants us to buy a house to settle, but before I’m too old I really want to buy this Ferrari”. Most of us would fail to think up a sensible response to this; hence the best thing is to ask “You plan to buy a Ferrari?” Imagine how interested and enthusiastic the car lover would be to talk about his plans for owning a sexy, red Ferrari.
With the outlined techniques for successful oral communication, we can feel glad that talking to new people isn’t that difficult after all. In fact, with such techniques it can be real fun.
For a visual summary (slideshow) of this post, please click here.
Lowndes, Leil. “How To Talk To Anyone.”