Do you ever feel like you need to improve your ability to start a conversation with someone you’ve just met? If so , don’t feel bad because in my coaching practice, one of the most common challenges faced by both men and women is how to start a conversation.
Admittedly, there is plenty of information out there about how to start a conversation, but frankly I have a problem with much of it. Why? Because nowhere have I ever read this one basic suggestion – be yourself.
The how to start a conversation nonsense
The “how to” explanations often include things like: maintain eye contact, watch your body language, keep smiling, mirror their body language, ask questions, and regurgitate what you have read in the newspaper. I agree that eye contact, a smile, and body language are important, but here’s the thing…
When I meet you I want to get to know YOU, and frankly, if you are staring into my eyes with a fixed smile on your face, copying my mannerisms, interrogating me and recounting this morning’s newspaper, I will probably be running for the nearest exit.
Think about it. If I approached you in that way – how long would you hang around?
How to start a conversation using common ground
Okay, I realize that you and I are not exactly the same, but we do have things in common. Granted, you may not share my love of the countryside. So, if I went on and on about the baby fawn I saw today, you might not feel very connected.
On the other hand, we are all members of the human family. That means that we all share some common ground. For example: We all want to be loved, respected and valued, right? Exactly how we want those things may vary, but the desire is still the same.
If we start a conversation in a room full of strangers, we would both want to…
1. Feel comfortable in each other’s company
2. Make a good impression on each other
3. Not be thought of as boring or stupid
We have a much better chance of achieving those goals by being ourselves rather than attempting to be someone we are not. Using false pretenses to impress someone will only backfire latter, so why go there? To start a conversation that is worth perusing, look for something you both have in common and build out from there.
How to start a conversation using curiosity
By nature we are inquisitive beings. We all have some degree of natural curiosity. Just like children our curiosity helps us to learn and share. When we are curious we are open to new things and that makes us more attentive to those around us.
Our curiosity often prompts us to ask questions. And while questions do demonstrate our interest in the other person, not all questions are created equal. Here are a few that we should be careful with.
Are you married? This is a closed question because it often leads to a simple yes or no answer and we want our questions to give the other person an opportunity to share their story with us.
What do you do for a living? Is this a question that you would want someone to ask you? This can be a hit or miss question. Currently there are so many people losing jobs that you could be touching on an area that the other person does not want to talk about.
What hobbies do you have? Do you really want to know the answer to this question? Remember, the answer could be something that you have no interest in. If I meet you I want to find out what makes you unique. I want you to be interested enough in me to ask genuine questions that will allow me to share my story with you.
7 How to start a conversation guidelines
1) Be yourself
2) Be loving and respectful
3) Seek out what makes the other person unique
4) Ask genuine questions
5) Always give the other person an opportunity to share their story
6) Listen for the value in their words
7) Look for the opportunity to give value back to them in your story
Some say that there is an art to conversation. Perhaps the best way to start conversations is to simply be yourself and to speak from your heart.
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