I just had the most delightful encounter. While sitting doing some work on the patio of my favorite coffee shop, I ran into the couple who owns the local bookstore. I’ve met them before, but we don’t know one another well. It didn’t matter. While Vivian was on the phone, Roger eagerly engaged me in conversation. He flattered me by saying I looked strikingly similar to a well-known author I admire, we talked about changes in weather patterns (it’s unseasonably warm as I sit writing this), world politics, an event we are both planning to attend, and several interesting books that he recommended. All of that took about four minutes. It was lovely and has me thinking about all of the topics we hit on and more. Roger has the gift of gab.
You know what I’m talking about, right? It’s that special ability to effortlessly engage others in conversation – whether you know them or not – and make them feel special, interested, intrigued, and rapt in the discussion at hand.
So, how comfortable are you at diving into conversation when you encounter someone? Do you immediately engage in robust dialogue? Or, more commonly, are you lost for words, wondering what to discuss? On a scale of 1-10, I give Roger a 10 out of 10 on his ability to generate conversation. Looking inward, I give myself about a 7.5-8.0 depending on the situation. Sure, I love talking and being with others, but I worry that I’m just not that interesting! Harrumph.
If you have any misgivings about connecting with others, here are a few tips for working through the initial awkwardness of interactions with others:
- Ask questions. I’ve said it before – I’ll say it again: Questions are a sure way to engage others in conversation, especially when you ask the big, open-ended questions. Almost everyone will respond, and it gives you a chance to jump in on the discussion, too. Here are a few to get you started: What are you working on these days? How did you fill your weekend? What brings you to this event? Where is the next place you hope to travel? What is your favorite book or podcast?
- Offer a compliment. What a great workbag – looks like you can get a lot in there. Love your hair color – it’s perfect for fall. You asked a great question during the last presentation – it inspired me to learn more about the topic. I always appreciate your insights – thanks for being part of the team. Tell me, who wouldn’t like to hear any one of these praises bestowed on them? Not only will the recipient be flattered, it also opens the door for conversation. (Incidentally, my workbag came from eBags, in case you’re interested!)
- Smile. If all else fails, remember that you carry with you the #1 best tool for engaging others – your smile. A smile is like a welcome mat that says, “Hello! I’m open to talking with you.” It doesn’t have to be creepy or weird. A smile and a hello is a really good start. No need to be clever or incredibly interesting. These are human interactions we’re talking about – the person on the other end of your smile will appreciate your effort and, I hope, reciprocate with a smile of their own.