People are rarely taught how to make good conversation. The ones who do receive a heaven-sent lesson probably don’t listen to it either (a credibility problem). So do me a favor and don’t bother believing me about this stuff up front. Take your time, make some observations, try it out. When you’re ready to believe that I know what I’m talking about, let me know. Until then just remember what I say.
Most people do not know this because I rarely have reason to say it. But I grew up with awful, awful social anxiety and paranoia.
My teenage years were filled with the same desperate attempts to manage my image as everyone elses. It was like being given a management position at a celebrity’s marketing department with no experience in marketing. I did great*.
Unfortunately, it didn’t go away after highschool. The anxiety stayed, until recently.
Now I recently noticed that many ravers are attracted to the scene because of a guarantee of acceptance. People with anxiety walk around feeling like they never know if they will be loved or not. It makes the rave scene seem attractive (understandably). I’m writing this post with the rave scene in mind, because those are my people.
In my experience a lot of anxiety stems from not knowing whether you do a good job in conversation or not.
You know that I lived with a lot of social anxiety. But you probably don’t know that for four months, I did a sales job where I nervously walked into peoples homes and made conversation with them for an hour and a half. I had to make the residents like me quickly and sustain it the whole time I was there. Otherwise, I didn’t have a hope in hell of selling my product.
I’m not a big closer, but every single client liked me. Every single one. And what I noticed over the first month was…
My anxiety went away. I don’t know if it was because of the conversation skills, but I do know that the feeling of control I have over the direction and feeling of conversation is powerful.
So if you want some help with conversation skills, I have good news! I know what I’m talking about!
I will refer you to the original source of my knowledge at the bottom of the post. But for now I want to take my own crack at it.
One of the first things I learned in sales is that people do not care about you. They care about themselves. This knowledge has huge benefits if you use it right.
First, you have a one way ticket to capturing their attention: Talking about them.
Second, people aren’t going to remember the details of what you said. That means your mistakes and awkward moments are fine (everyone has them). What people will remember is how you made them feel.
This is a hugely important point. If you make someone feel good when you are around, they will remember that feeling, and want to be around you. If the association with good feelings is strong enough, their minds will attribute good qualities to you. If it’s strong enough, they will even feel compelled to hang out with you. This is the basis for all social interactions. (The humorous part for me is watching them hallucinate great qualities I don’t have.)
Now how do you establish those good feelings?
It is important for context for us all to recall the simple observation that some memories have pleasant associations, while others have painful ones. The time your crush asked you out is pleasant. The time your dad ran over your foot with the car is unpleasant. Anything about your new puppy? Gold dude, gold.
So you meet a new person. You want them to like you. Easy. Tell me the one thing everyone cares about in this world, and ask them about that. Yes, that’s right.
Ask them about themselves.
The key is that when you find either common ground or an area they have good memories (family, childhood, hobbies — whatever makes them smile when they hear you ask about it), keep talking about that.
The goal is to let them talk about 60% of the conversation. You’ll get a feel for it with practice.
The basic questions are, “Hi, what’s your name?”
“Where are you from?”
“What do you do for work?” NOTE: Follow this question immediately with “What do you like about it?” or “Which coworker do you like the most?” Notice how both questions guide the conversation towards the emotionally enjoyable aspects of work.
“What do you do for fun?” or “What hobbies do you do?”
“Where did you go to school?”
As you get further into the conversation, you can go more personal, and towards more narrowly defined topics. I might write more about that if someone asks me to.
I’ll leave you with this magic bullet right here, to be used with people who might have one: “Any plans for a vacation?”
Send this to a friend if you feel like it helped.
For those wondering, the source of my conversation skills is actually two pages of this wonderful book by Scott Adams.
*This is a joke.