Tools for Engaging in Small Talk and Conversations
Tools for engaging small talk and conversation. If you can't break out of vanilla interview mode small talk, you need more tools. It's easy to blame the other person being a wall, being boring, being maybe a conversational narcissist, what have you but it doesn't mean that you don't need to arm yourself better and with more tools. That's exactly what this lesson wants to do, this lesson arms you with two incredibly important tools for engaging conversation. Number one, you might have heard of this before but I like to think that I take another alternative view at this. A powerful sense of curiosity, just being curious about the other person is a very powerful emotion to have. If you're not curious about someone, who cares? Why do you care about them? You won't and that'll show. So here's the word that I want everyone to think about for a second. I'm gonna read this, Sonder, the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own, and yet you only int...
ersect for a brief moment and there off just in their own complete world, complete, vivid and complex world. So, to me, that's a very important realization because there's so much to ask about when everyone has their own world. They're not just at face value what they present to you when you meet them, they have their own dreams, desires, hates, pet peeves, daily struggles, daily victories, triumphs, emotions. So thinking about people in these three dimensional ways is one of the first ways that curiosity can be sparked and can be grown. On the same vein, how often have you actually stopped to think about, how is this person doing? Maybe just even the person that you're talking to or maybe even just a close friend, how is this person doing? What is going on in their life? What's making their life good, bad right now? What's making them happy or sad right now? What's annoying them right now, a lot? What is the best part of their day? What is their worst part of their day. Who are they dating, dating coach? And here's a very important point to make, do they know more about me or do I know more about them? We often run into the trouble, hm I should say I, I often run into the trouble when I'm coaching that, the people around my clients seem to know a lot about them but my clients don't seem to know anything about them. So what do you think that means? It means they're not taking interest, they're not curious, they're not even asking questions to their circles, to their friends because they just can't do it, they haven't thought about that way. They don't care. So what I'm saying, I realize this is a tall task, because we are in our own worlds, each of us has their own emotions going on all the time. So taking a genuine interest in people, investing in strangers is rare and difficult, it's rare and difficult but what that also means that we may not realize is that we expect to be entertained. We expect someone to be, I'm not boring, I'm worth your time. Instead of you doing the same thing to them, where you're contributing and you're showing that you're worth their time. So it's a little bit of a cycle, right? That you expect something but you're not giving them the chance to do that. We turn people away, we get bored with them. We have a short attention span, self interested, lazy, selfish and this is what happens. You might also think that you can't spare the time because of your goals. In my coaching practice, I coach a lot of executives, managers, supervisors. What they universally say to me is that, there's ... the people they supervise know nothing about them. It's a very strict business relationship. They're straight to the point, they're all business, they get in and get out. So, you might be in this camp where you feel like you can't spare the time because of your goals, but again if you have, if you're able to accomplish this first goal of having a good interaction, building a good relationship, everything else flows so much easier. So regardless of your old goal was, the old goal, say you go to a networking event, boy I wanna meet someone that can connect me to someone good, right? Let's shift it, let's change the goal orientation. First shift, was to making a good interaction instead of finding someone, right? This next shift is gonna be learning about the other person and to discover what they can teach you, what they can show you, what interesting things they have about themselves that they can talk about. So the default for conversation is to ask questions. That's gonna enhance your sense of curiosity. It's gonna help your conversations. Plus people enjoy talking about themselves. They'll seize the spotlight if you give it to them. They might be shy about it at first. They might be coy about it. But if you say I wanna hear more about that, that's so interesting, tell me more, I'm interested in you, I'm engaged, some people can't stop talking when they give that leeway, even if they're shy or they classify themselves as introverted, it's very interesting to see. So what you're doing here is you're making conversation easy for both parties with curiosity because remember how lazy and self interested we are. If you can be curious, the other person is gonna have such an easier time talking to you. And that's one of the general rules of thumb of conversation, make the conversation easy, ask easy questions and make it easy for both of you guys. What were you curious about as a child? And how did you act towards it? For me, dinosaurs and astronauts, hands down. Astronauts, eventually led to Star Trek. Not really Star Wars, not a fan, but Star Trek for sure. So big Trekkie and you know what, I could, you couldn't shut me up if the topic ever came up. Dinosaurs, I wanna know all the species. I wanna know when they were. I wanna know how big there were, how much they weighed. Astronauts, well, mostly Star Trek, which will say met that I watch a lot of tv (audience chuckles) but that's fine, but what you wanna do is you remember that child-like wonder, remember that enthusiasm. Just remember how you acted, you probably couldn't be shut up about that. But when we try to do that to other people, it doesn't work but adapt that level of engagement and obsession and interest and curiosity of other humans, that's a big key, that's really what conversation curiosity is. And we got an exercise coming up here. What do you notice about talk show hosts? It's very interesting to study, actually, if you think about it. They're so curious, they are so engaged. All their attention is just on one person. They put the spotlight on one person. They focus on one person. All their reactions are very positive and designed to draw the other person out. Notably, there's a lot of restraint. What do I mean by that? Conan O'Brien, Jimmy Fallon, David Letterman, These are all world famous comedians, right? They are funnier than every single one of their guests. And yet they make the show not about them. They make the interview about the other person. They show restraint, they let the other person take it. They show curiosity and you can see for yourself every night, like five times, how well those interviews go just because he's guiding it along, or he or she is guiding it along with curiosity.
Cool, hey Patrick, before we get into our next exercise, I wanna ask a couple of questions kinda related to that. So you mentioned the talk show hosts being really good at sort of setting up those questions, you know, getting to the answers that they want. So this first question comes from Galey Coward who says, "Is there a way to speak that will cause others to asks questions or share something that you want people to know without being boastful," and their asking especially in a networking environment. Like how do you kind of lead up to get those answers that you're looking for.
Can you repeat that again?
Yeah sure. So they wanna know, is there a way to speak that will cause others to ask questions or share something that you want people to know without being boastful in like a networking environment. Like do you kind of have a couple of set up questions before you get to that question that you really wanna know the answer to?
I think it's all about delivery because what you're asking for is what we ask for a lot of the time, especially in dating especially in conversation is, we want that one magic phrase, right? We want the one phrase and this is the analogy I use a lot believe it or not, when you're breaking up with someone. We want that one phrase that's gonna be like, gentle, I still care about you, you're a great person, it's not you, it's me, but that also develops, that also as an impact, the crushing impact really, you can't get past the impact. And so that's why I wanna tell the asker of this question, you probably won't be able to get past the impact. What you can do is you can interlace these things as hooks. You can mention them off hand, you can mention them in side comments, in the hopes that someone picks it up. If they don't, you have two choices. You can ignore it or you can just charge ahead.
Gotcha. Here's another follow up question that RC, was the original poster here, we got a couple of votes on this one. And RC wants to know, what works with VIPs and high network individuals? So this is something, I guess, you mentioned the talk show hosts and they're kind of a high VIP person but, if you are trying to engage in a conversation with somebody who's maybe higher up in your company or something like that, are there any tactics you use when you know that maybe they're higher up than you are.
Well first of all, it's interesting that you put it that way because the whole context that you present makes you act differently and weird sometimes, right? When you put someone on a pedestal, you treat them differently but in the reality, they're the same people, they're just people.
I'm in front of you for some reason, I'm just a person right?
So they're just people, but I will say that when you are dealing with someone with perhaps VIP status their busy, their attention is divided. They probably maybe are preoccupied and don't care about (laughs)
About you maybe? So what that means you need to do is, you need to carry the conversation and doubly so, you need to make it super easy for them because if they feel like there's any friction, if they feel the conversation's gonna be tough they're out because they got a lot of things to do. Well, we got an exercise, so we got any volunteers? Yes please, yeah.
Come on up. You're name?
Hi I'm Louise.
Good to meet you.
You too Patrick.
Thanks, so what we're gonna do is, I'm question master. I'm gonna be the question master. I'm gonna be the talk show host. (audience laughs lightly)
Okay so today on our show, Louise, what brings you here today?
Well, you know, I've always felt like I'm an engaging conversationalist but I think I struggle with talking to people of that VIP status and keeping that engaging conversation going so I was really excited to come and attend and learn more.
That's great, thanks for being here.
What exactly about is it about the VIP status that bugs you?
You know, I think there's an intimidation factor of wondering wow, oh can I carry on a conversation that's interesting enough for these people and to you know, engage them on a level that they'll enjoy and be entertained as well. So yeah.
You're very entertaining.
Oh I try.
I think so. Where are you coming from today?
I live in San Francisco. I'm from Colorado originally. I've been here about seven years.
Cool how are you liking it? Did you move for a man?
No, I did not, no. (laughing) I was laid off in my job in Denver in and decided, that's a great time to move to a big city so I'm just going to do it. And so I just packed up the suitcase and a couple boxes, moved here.
How do you find the skiing here? Skiing is big in Colorado, are you a big skier here?
No, I've only been skiing once my whole life, even though I grew up in Colorado. So can't really speak to it very much.
A terrible Coloradan
I know, I'm the worst Coloradan. No awful.
Yup, okay. Okay so that was, we keep it short, right? You can sit down, thank you thank you.
That was very short but I think effective demonstration of I just keep the attention on her. I lead the interaction to be about her. I can make it all about her. I'm asking questions, I'm sorry I should've kept you up here. How did that feel?
[Female Interviewee] It felt good. Yeah you were.
Did it feel easy?
[Female Interviewee] Yeah totally, you asked really good questions and yeah, prompted things really well.
Were you afraid of awkward silences?
[Female Interviewee] Not in that time no.
So what I did, what the talk show host always does is they take the burden. They take the burden just kind of like a job interviewer, and that's their job to make sure it goes well and they do that. And they show some restraint, they make it all about the other person. Oh i guess we're not there yet. I guess I have probably about 10 skiing stories all involving some sort of injury. I didn't know any of those (laughing) you showed some restraint 'cause it's not about me, it's not about me showing myself. It's about her showing herself for the good of the conversation. Okay.
Stand on your side?
Okay great. Just start?
Hi how are you?
What's your name?
My name's Lori.
Lori nice to meet you.
So, what brings you here today to this workshop?
Well, this is not my strength and looking for that ice breaker, trying to, obviously
it's not my strength (laughs)
Yeah, can you think of a time when you really wish you wanted to have that ice breaker and you didn't Yeah
Yes, I mean Chamber of Commerce mixer for one, where you have to go around and talk to a lot of people and try to find something interesting to say to them in a quick amount of time.
Right, you have to think on your feet.
On your toes
and everything, yeah what what brings you to Chamber of Commerce meetings when you do go?
I'm promoting a business so, I'm trying
to network with other business in my community to kind of get my name out there.
Oh great and what's your business?
Photography, I'm a photographer.
Awesome, do you do wedding or more portraits or
I do portraits and events. And so lots of business headshots and so that's why I'm at the Chamber of Meeting, corporate events that type of thing.
Yeah, oh that's great and how long have you been doing that?
For about five years, two years seriously, you know.
Good for you. And before that was, did you do something else?
You know they say real career, I work in education so I'm an admissions advisor, community college and not at a university.
Yeah and then you decided to go for your dream.
I wanna be creative. So I'm going for the dream.
Yeah oh cool, that's awesome. (whispering) yeah that was awesome.
Great, good job. (audience clapping) Thank you thank you. (laughs) So Lori, did that feel even though it was a series of questions, did it feel like the conversation there was a conversation flow, like you didn't have to think too hard, hopefully?
Right, I didn't have to think too hard after the first question or two, I feel like. When I,
let me nerves relax a little then it flowed a little bit easier.
It's the bright lights.
Yeah. (audience agreeing)
I know. Did it feel like you felt like you could maybe take a back seat because it was very clear what she was doing.
Yeah she'd led the conversation really well so I, just road on her shirttails (laughs)
That's it right? You just make it easier for other people. How did it feel for you to be in charge, taking the role of being the host.
Great, I actually enjoyed that side of the conversation more if anything, I struggled being on the other side a little bit. So I really am curious and love getting to know other people so, that part's fun for me.
Part's easy for you, that's good. Comes easy for you, doesn't always come easy for everyone, that's great. Okay, so that was question master. Tool number two, so tool number one was obviously about curiosity, how can we cultivate curiosity? What to do with that curiosity and how can we act on it, being the talk show host. Tool number two is about better questions. So, here's a pop quiz. Lori, what do you like to do for fun?
I like to hike.
What's your absolute favorite movie. Okay.
Jerry Maguire, show me the money.
'Cause I just mentioned it (laughs)
I know the name of it.
Okay, Rey, what do you like to do for fun? What are your hobbies?
I'm kind of a self help junkie, I like to improve myself, read.
Okay that's good. Louise, I'm just going down.
What's your absolute favorite movie?
Just one of them at least, yeah.
I didn't get your name but
Justin, what's your absolute favorite movie?
My absolute favorite movie, I would say Princess Bride.
We were just talking about that.
We were just talking about that, look at that. Manly men but we like
Inigo Montoya, right?
Oh of course.
You wanna say it?
What he says.
My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, right?
Yeah, yeah. (laughing)
Prepare to die, yeah.
Prepare to die.
Yeah exactly so, that actually went better than I thought it would but, my point behind these is actually that these are terrible questions, they are terrible, especially when you ask them to strangers. Terrible, people never have answers of these, too. And the funny thing is that they're basically two opposing cardinal conversational sins which is, number one, way too open ended. way too broad, it's like I don't know that answer so I'm going to say something general-ish, in the hopes that you accept it. The second one is absolutism, which is too specific, which makes me think, I don't know the answer to that but I feel like I'm gonna be judged on it and I can't think of a particular movie right now. It's just very difficult to answer and it violates our number rule, which is to make conversation easy for the other person. So, too broad vs. too specific. How do you make better questions? Make them easy to answer. Never use absolutes. That's rule number one. And we'll go into both of them, we'll go into how to never use absolutes. We'll go into even just how to use absolutes to your advantage or use them better. What is your absolute favorite movie? That's the bad version, right? So that becomes What's a good movie you've seen recently? So why is this better? It's better because there's fewer, there's almost no restrictions on it, right? It's almost like saying, tell me have you seen a movie before. Tell the name of it. But that's great because that makes conversation easy. The movie that we like is gonna flow to the top of our head. It's like, Hook, Princess Bride, for me, Oh I just saw Arrival, so I would probably say Arrival or like the Magnificent Seven, which just came out like a month ago, if someone asked me this. If someone was to ask me my absolute favorite movie? Here's what happens, I think hmm ... I don't know what about you? And that's what happens when you have questions that are too broad. It requires the difficult choice be made basically because you feel like it represents you. But thinking of one is also hard because it's hard to pick out one unless you already have an answer for this. And number three there's a possibility you'll feel feel judged because if you say, this is my absolute favorite ones and someone says, that's terrible (laughs) how is that conversation go? How does that feel? And that's happened to me plenty of times. This is my favorite thing, I hate that. And okay what do you want to do now? (laughs) Better questions number two. Open-ended questions stink. I say that because I know this is a very popular piece of conversation advice and I think it's terrible. I think it's the worst piece of conversation advice that people can ever give because I think it's very misguided. What do you like to do for fun? That's a very general question, the broad question. Broad questions get broad answers. You know what gets a good specific answer is making an assumption. So the assumption here would be like, do you like baseball or hiking? You're not making an assumption based on anything, you're just making it based on maybe they do. Maybe they do or maybe they don't. But that instantly makes it easier for them. They say yes or no and then they can explain that. And it gives the conversation a direction. Here's another way to deal with these open-ended questions. What do you like to do for fun? So this is actually something we kind of do instinctually but maybe don't realize it. When we realize we asked an open-ended question, we kind of qualify it right? We give them options. What do you do for fun? Are you into the outdoors, video games, maybe yoga? So when you give options, you're basically adding on to the open-ended question. One question turns into four questions just with this little phrase and this is kind of a theme throughout that when you drop these questions, when you ask more to other people, you'll see their faces light up as they find something that they can answer. That they feel good about. That's something that resonates with them. So what do you like to do for fun? Are you into the outdoors or maybe video games, you'll see someone light up almost wanting to speak and then maybe you don't even have to finish the sentence. So giving options, turning one question into many. Here's the third and final part of asking better questions. Ask for stories versus mere answers. How many of us watch sports here? I watch, I'm a big Warriors fan, watch sports what is that almost everyday. It's very interesting to watch sports broadcasters interview athletes. Athletes, while not known for their intellectual brain power, to give good answers and be good conversationally maybe. They're asking athletes these questions right after they finished the game, when there's still sweat dripping down and yet they're still able to get good answers sometimes from these athletes, why? Well next time you watch the sports, a sports game or sports interview, look at the way the sports broadcasters phrase their questions. This is exactly what they're doing. They're asking for stories versus mere answers. What does it sound like? So do you like college? That's the first version right? You're asking for an answer when you ask, did you like college? It's a yes or no, maybe one or two reasons, caput. Tell me about a time in college that you miss or that makes you nostalgic, or that reminds you of something? That immediately asks for a story as an answer versus a question and this is the small things, these small changes, these small tweaks. that can get you good answers. Lastly, this is also an important part because no matter how good the questions you are that you're asking, no matter how easy you can make it for other people, you could be a great conversationalist but the other person might have a blank mind. They might be tired, they might be intimidated, they might not care. So they might just bounce it back to you and say, hm I don't know, what about you? Always have an answer to that when you're asking a question. Always know what you would say. Always have an answer.
Before we move on, we do have some questions that came in on this last lesson, so I'm just gonna fire away on a couple of these. The first one came from K Fern who says, "What do you do when you can see the other person's eyes glaze over because they are bored with the conversation." I know some of this, we may get into a little bit later but, yeah any answers for that one right now?
Normally that means you're speaking too much.
Normally, yeah. So it's good that you have the level of self awareness to see someone's eyes but there's (laughs) another level of self awareness where you say, oh I've been dominating the air for quite a while, they don't care about my weekend. So we will get into more specific answers for that.
Great and similar question, a lot of people are curious about this, Louise had a similar question talking about he enjoys conversations a little bit too much, how do you be that person who doesn't extend the conversation for too long, being aware of visual ques when people wanna end a conversation. That's another thing that we'll touch on as well, right?
How to end the conversation.
That is something that we'll touch on later. I have what I call a conversation escape formula.
Which is pretty handy. So yeah, does that answer it?
I think that covers it. Yeah
A few more questions here on Veronica King is the first one who posted this one, but similar questions people are voting on it, so I wanna at least address it now, we can get into more in detail later but, people wanna know, how do you steer away from awkward conversations, such as one centered around things that maybe you're not comfortable talking about or once you're getting down the road in a conversation, you realize that you don't have common ground with the person, whether its they mention politics or religious beliefs or something that there's no common ground, is that another way where you need to get that exit to get out of that conversation?
It's (laughs) right, well it's either an exit or it's just simply realizing, again, she's searching for the magic phrase, she's searching for the magic phrase that says all of these things at once which are, that was great, I don't I'm polite, I care but I don't want to talk about this, let's talk about something else. There's no magic phrase for that, the impact's gonna be there. So all you need to do is just say, not comment on something and then this is something we're gonna get into later, you use what I call a fall back story. You say, hey did you see this? You just change topics.