Learning how to talk to people sounds a bit like a joke, right? Since we already talk to people every day. We’re experts at opening our mouths, making sounds, nodding our heads and simply smiling … but that’s not what conversations are about.You instinctively know that there’s more to conversation than meaningless chit-chat. You’ve seen other people talk on a deeper level, and you’ve seen those same people make friends easily, build social circles and get ahead in their careers. All because they connect to people in a meaningful way. That is what conversational skills are all about.
Why your conversations suck!
Let me ask you… what would happen if you were talking to someone you’d just met and they told you they were a librarian, for example? You’d probably say “oh cool,” follow it with some small talk and then get yourself stuck on a topic you don’t really want to talk about, right? Like this…
You: “What do you do as a librarian?”
Them: “Oh it’s just a lot of books and arranging them.”
You: “So you must be pretty good at organising books.”
Them: “Uhh, yeah, I guess I’m pretty good at it.”
That’s some riveting stuff right there. You’re only pretending to be interested. Internally you’re thinking “how do I change the topic???” but externally you’re digging for details that you don’t even want.
You’ll never truly connect with anyone by pretending, because people can tell when you’re only faking interest, or just being polite. They don’t want to be in that conversation either, because it feels forced and empty for both of you.So what do you do? How do you learn how to talk to people in a meaningful way?
Stop Pretending To Be Interested
The next time you’re talking to someone and you run out of small talk, stop digging into details that you don’t care about. Stop asking questions that you don’t actually want answers to. Just stop talking to keep the conversation going. The goal of a conversation is not to fill silence, it’s to connect with the other person. So if all you’re trying to do is fill silence, without truly being interested in what you’re talking about, you’re going to make it awkward.If your own words bore you, they sure as hell won’t excite the other person..
Small talk runs out. Find something you’re genuinely curious about.
You’ll reach a point in the conversation where you run out of obvious things to say. Instead of faking interest, pause to find some aspect of the current topic that you’re actually curious about. You can easily feed off of genuine curiosity to keep a conversation going. That’s how to talk to people on a deeper, more meaningful level.
Ask yourself: What am I genuinely excited or interested to learn here? To explore? To share?
If you don’t actually feel curious, you haven’t found the right topic yet.So what might spark your curiosity with the librarian? How about this… (if you’re interested in psychology and what motivates people to do what they do)
You: “You know what? I don’t think I could do books all day — but I’ve actually heard a few people say they love being around books, and I’m really curious to know what it is they love about it. What am I missing?”
Them: “I have no idea; I don’t always love my job — but I guess the one thing I do like is that you always have something to read.Like the morning newspaper or the new magazine.”
Now you are getting into meaningful territory. Since you’re not just pretending to be interested anymore. You’ll feel much more confident and comfortable taking the conversation in this direction, and the other person will open up to your genuine curiosity.
Explore common emotions when there is nothing in common.
If you want to get along with someone, just find a common interest. But what if we have nothing in common with each other?There are thousands of hobbies and interests we can choose from, but there isn’t enough time in the world to try them all, so we each pick say ten. Chances are my ten are different to your ten (because you’re probably into some weird shit), so we may not have any interests in common.
Something we absolutely have in common though (unless you’re a psychopath) is that we’ve experienced the same emotions over and over and over again: joy, trust, fear, surprise, sadness, disgust, anger, anticipation, loneliness etc. So instead of looking for common interests, connect on the common emotions we all experience.
If you do this, you’ll often end up finding interests that you don’t share, but that spark similar emotions in both of you… and that can be really interesting to explore.
Keep the conversation going.
There are hundreds of things you could say in a given situation, yet your brain often can’t think of a single one. It’s a funny thing. Say you’re in a conversation with a friend and he’s talking about his car. You don’t know anything about cars, so you find yourself knee-deep in awkward silence.How do you keep the conversation going from there? Where do you find ideas for new topics?
Some people zoom out on topics. They like to talk about general concepts. Other people zoom in. They like to talk about specific details. Both tools are useful for changing the subject and keeping the conversation going when you run out of things to say. If you zoom in on the topic of “your friend’s car,” for example, you might come up with…
And if you zoom out, you might come up with…
- Other modes of transport
- Fuel consumption
- Rich men who buy expensive cars to get girls.
So you haven’t really run out of things to say. You now have eight new ideas. Pursue them and that’s all there is to it. It’s just a simple tool that helps you connect new ideas when you run out of things to say on a given topic. Just zoom in or out whenever you get stuck.
You’ve probably had conversations where you just can’t seem to get on the same page as the other person. Where it feels like you’re talking about two different things. If you find yourself in a conversation that feels like the other person comes from a different planet — or maybe they just look bored. All you have to do to connect with them is zoom in the same direction. If they’re zooming in, give them details and examples. If they’re zooming out, give them the meaning behind your details and examples. The bigger picture.
And if you ever get stuck in an awkward silence… do the same thing. Of course this zooming tool isn’t your only option when you’ve run out of things to say, but it’s a simple way to keep a conversation going, and to keep it flowing smoothly.
Tell us about your experiences when you were stuck in a conversation in the comment section below. Let’s talk.