No matter where on the spectrum of awkward to charismatic you lie, there are still moments in every conversation that you wish you could get back.
The awkward silences, the stutter laughs, and the times where you just smile and nod along when in reality you have no idea what has just happened.
I’ll cut to the chase. Here are 3 conversation tips and tactics to help you seize control of a conversation, thriving and flailing, and take it beyond surface level and drive genuine connection.
1.) Don’t answer questions literally
Patrick, that sounds rude! How can you just ignore what people say to you?
Well, let me clarify. Don’t answer small talk questions literally.
These are questions like “How was your weekend?” and “How is your day going?” The reason you shouldn’t answer these literally is that no one cares about the answer – not the person who asked, and not even you.
When’s the last time you cared about how someone’s day is at that very moment, and when’s the last time anyone ever had anything worth telling you about their day?
People ask questions and make conversation in the hopes of hearing something interesting, engaging, and conversation-worthy – not about what you had for breakfast.
So don’t answer these questions literally – seek to redirect them to something interesting, engaging, and conversation-worthy.
You can do so by simply acknowledging their actual question (that neither of you care about) and then slipping in a “BUT…”
For example, “I didn’t do much over the weekend, BUT… [option 1: last weekend I did something interesting…] [option 2: I just heard something interesting…] [option 3: did you know something interesting…] [option 4: can you believe something interesting…]
This technique will take your conversation immediately into a topic that is beyond shallow small talk and will instantly engage others.
2.) Be David Letterman (or whoever your favorite talk show host is)
If your conversations are stalling, you’re partially to blame.
That’s right – you can’t expect your conversation partner to shoulder the burden of the interaction or entertain you solely.
If you find yourself running out of things to say and blanking with someone, you are simply not being curious enough about them.
You’ve got an entire person right in front of you – you’re telling me you’re not curious about them and have questions to ask about any aspect of their life?
Think about how your favorite talk show host acts with their guests. They’re intensely curious, excited, and engaged by the guest. They put the guest into the spotlight, and give them the space and prompts to make sure that they shine.
The attention is on the guest, questions are the default, and listening is at a premium.
Think about how you would act when you were a child and obsessed with dinosaurs. You wouldn’t be able to stop asking questions out of pure curiosity that made your social reservations disappear. You would dig deep into topics and learn as much as possible.
Adopt this approach for your own conversations.
3.) Ask better questions
Even if you are able to adopt a talk show host mentality for your conversations, we still have to make sure that the questions you are asking are good, answerable, engaging, and will lead the conversation somewhere.
Let me start with a problem that most people have – they ask questions that are too broad and open such as “What do you like to do for fun?”
This is a common piece of advice that I find to be plain wrong. What happens when you ask a broad question like that?
“Hmm… good question. Let me think about that. I don’t know, eat, work out, and watch movies?”
You get a very general answer because you asked a very general question and provided no direction. It’s a plain difficult question to answer, and you should be focusing on the opposite – making conversation easy for the other person.
So there are two better ways to ask questions.
First, ask specific questions even if you don’t think you have a basis for asking it. Make an assumption and go with it, and you might be surprised at what happens.
For example, “Are you into baseball?” is a much better version of the question asked, and you don’t need a reason for having asked it. You just wanted to know, and they will either confirm or deny it and elaborate.
Second, if you stay with a broad question, there is something you can do to make it effective and easy to answer. You can give your conversation partner options.
For example, “What do you like to do for fun? Are you into fitness, or do you like art – or maybe movies?”
The second sentence was full of options that came from the original broad question that tell the listener what kind of answer you’re looking for, and generally give them a direction to agree or disagree with.
That way, instead of one broad question, you have essentially asked four questions. Not bad!
Want more conversation tips? Join our live studio audience in SF for Patrick King’s upcoming class ‘Perfecting the Art of Conversation‘ on Tuesday, November 15th or RSVP to watch our FREE live stream.