How to Handle or Strike up a Conversation
I have not been shy about admitting that I am an introvert. While it’s true that I am in successful in sales, the fact is that I work from home and in that environment, I am a whirlwind. But – get me in front of a person one-on-one, and I am plain old dopey if I am not talking about work. Social situations simply are my downfall.
So, for people like me, how do we overcome that? How do us introverts get ahead or at least coast in social situations if we freeze up? Here are some of the things I have used successfully.
- Prepare for social situations: If you are going to a wedding or some social event, read up on current events. To me, the best site for this is Truemors. There you can avoid all of the typical newspaper-type news and actually absorb something interesting. When you are interesting, people will listen and engage you making conversation a lot easier. Here is an example of a few things you can take from their site that will make conversations interesting:
- The Let Us Pay Taxes group has offered Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger one billion dollars to be put toward the budget crisis. The thing is; this money will be coming from a coalition of California marijuana growers and dealers. What’s the Terminator going to do?
- Everyone knows Mississippi is the fattest state (and Colorado the skinniest), but can it really true that in today’s 2007 Fattest States announcement that California was the only state not to get fatter?
These are simply good conversation pieces and frankly it’s a good source for a different view of life.
- Grin and bear it: One of my big problems is that I wear my feelings on my face. If you are blathering about some goofy topic, I will look around and quite possibly change the topic, not make eye contact, sigh, etc. That’s not really ideal if you are talking to someone important. Just play the role, smile and seriously listen to them. Most times, all they want is a listener so you may get out of the situation just by using your ears and nodding.
- Ask questions: Most people that initiate conversations simply want to talk about themselves. When confronted, you have to ask as many questions as possible. If someone asks you a question, turn it around so that they have to answer. This will get you out of the ‘primary talker’ role. It will allow you time to collect yourself and come up with the next question.
- Hey Jim – what did you think about the STP project?
- YOU:“I was surprised, what did you think?”
- “I thought this, this, and couldn’t believe this.”
- YOU: “Really, why?”
- “Oh, because this and this and this.”
- YOU:“Hmm. Gotta go, I have a meeting.”
So what did you really say? Nothing, nothing at all. You entertained someone for a second.
- Practice Non-Verbal Skills: Don’t fidget or pace when you’re talking to someone. Believe it or not, your body language is 50% of what the other person sees and interprets. You could be totally off with your comments but by using a little confident body language, you may get away with it.
- Common items: Make a comment about something that is obvious to both of you. It could be a wobbly table, an ill-conceived decoration, or whatever. The key here is to immediately know you surroundings and if you are a true introvert like me, that should come naturally. Our analytical trait won’t allow us to ignore anomalies in our surroundings.
- Avoid negatives: Ok so you hate your job but no one is really interested in your complaints. You should avoid complaints at all costs. This includes complaints about your spouse (if you admit you have one), your job, your parole officer, etc.
- The No-no: I’m not going to elaborate on this too much. Sex, politics and religion are off limits. It is rare that you will immediately have a common bond with someone on these issues so unless you are trying to start a debate, stay away from these topics.
- Your old boyfriend: We all have ex-boyfriends or girlfriends and guess what, no one really cares to hear the story. Tell it to your mom and leave the strangers alone because you will automatically be labeled as a head-case if you start complaining about how an ex dissed you.
- Don’t assume: Just because you are in a crowd of experts, you should not assume that they know all that you know. I am not saying you should brag about your knowledge, but you should set hints to see what your audience knows. If they check their watch or blackberry, you are boring them. If they are engaged in the conversation, you’ve stuck a chord.
That’s all I have guys. As I mentioned, I clam up at the sound of thunder so if you have some good tips on conversation, let me know. Spending 15 hours a day at a computer has seemingly removed some social skills from my repertoire.