You know what? People are cool – and everyday those three words prove more true. In true AIP style I’m focussing on the positives, but that’s why you’re reading this anyway *wink*. This last week I’ve set myself a little social experiment to talk to people I don’t know. Not “hey how’s it going” and move along type stuff, but actually strike up a conversation. It’s amazing what you learn when you give someone half a chance to talk about something they like. And with the way the world is at the moment, there’s lots of ways you can do this. As a foreword – i’m not one for idle chat, it’s something I’ve had to force myself to undertake, and it’s been a fantastic skill to learn, but yes – it’s not a natural thing to a lot of people. In fact, when you;’ve got some time, I recommend having a watch of this TED talk as an interesting side note.
Face To Face
Let’s start with a traditional method. I’ll be honest, talking to people for me can be easier because I have a cheat. In teaching my fitness classes I have every reason to go up to strangers and strike a up a conversation, but today I did it to some new participants, prior to them figuring out that I was the instructor. It was a matter of walking up, they look up as soon as you enter their proximity, wondering why this person has entered their personal space, and looking them in the eye (super important) and saying “Hi, I haven’t met you here before – first time?” I actually tried this a couple of different ways. Looking directly at people – not looking directly at them – with smiles and without.
What is being reinforced – is that people will automatically respond to you if you:
- Approach with a smile
- Look directly at their eyes (there is an inbuilt engagement response that is nearly impossible to ignore this way)
- Talk first – and have a question for them to respond to, followed immediately by another one that requires a little bit of an extended response
And hey – you’re away. Yes, I’m aware this seems stupidly obvious, but when you actually put it into conscious practice, especially when you try it without direct eye contact, it’s fascinating to see the outcomes. What I love about the whole conversing with people thing, is that once you can get someone talking about a topic they enjoy (and it can be grandkids, playstation, cooking, exercise, ANYTHING) – you’re actually likely to learn something about them, which in turns allows you to make further conversation. I learnt all about the optimal way to create a scotch bun this morning – and because I went in with the intent of just conversing, no expectations, it was actually really fun to learn.
When small talk stalls out, it’s often due to a phenomenon we call “mirroring.” In our attempts to be polite, we often answer people’s questions directly, repeat their observations, or just blandly agree with whatever they say.
A great reading resource is “Time’s” Mastering the Art of Conversation: 7 Steps to Being Smooth – which covers some more detail.
Through Alternate Mediums
There are alternate ways to this as well – which can be more challenging and inherently funnier as well. One evening whilst my partner was on a late shift, I jumped on an online playstation game and fired up a chat channel with someone I had never spoken to. Lets be clear here – online gaming can be one of the most hilarious, abusive, supportive and random places to chat all at once – so I was actually rather selective with who I picked. I picked a player on my team who was playing the “team game” helping the team, being co-operative…..basically – not being a twerp. With zero frame of reference on how this would turn out – the voice I got on the end was…..rather normal (man I was dreading potentially getting a 17 yr old hyper kid). Now obviously to start finding some frames of reference we were chatting about the game and a couple of things were really obvious – we were VERY different people. This guy was a solid hard-core gamer, and this was his passion, whereas for me it’s a fun distraction. The great thing? Despite a very awkward first couple of minutes trying to find common ground, it got to the point where we both accepted the comments the other was making whilst we communicated as a team, and started making jokes, quips, statements – which after 10 mins of understanding a personality type from audio alone – started to make sense!
The satisfaction of being able to hold a conversations with another person, with no prior knowledge of personality, is immense. It’s a skill that is highly valued in the workplace, in life in general, and it IS a skill because it’s something that takes practice. More importantly, it’s fun. The things I learnt, the phrases that made no sense, the turns of phrases all expand your own
What’s interesting to note: (Via The Art of Conversation: A Guided Tour of a Neglected Pleasure🙂
Research has found that with a serious topic or a good friend, we measure a conversation’s success by how enthralled we were by what the other person said. Whereas, the less familiar the other person, the more trivial the topic, the likelier we are to rate the experience by our own performance.
With all that said – out and meet some new people. We’re a fascinating bunch of randoms.
Keep it real Possiblers….reach for the stars.