in: Dating & Relationships

How to Master the Art of Conversation

Want to dig deeper to connect? Ben’s back and with him he brings tips on how to master the art of conversation.

Imagine that you’ve just met someone new—maybe a girl at a bar; maybe a senior VP at a networking event.

Conversation rolls for the first few minutes—but then a familiar roadblock: you both feel like you’re running out of things to say, so you implement a tactic you’ve heard before: To be interesting, be interested.

Get them talking about themselves; unleash your probing questions.

Good, incisive questions—they’re clever and you are obviously listening to the other person’s answers. But as time ticks on, you sense they want to speak less and less. After a few minutes, they excuse themselves to mingle with others.

What the heck happened? Isn’t showing a genuine interest in people supposed to be a conversational cure-all?

Not exactly, because the conventional wisdom of: “get them talking about themselves” is incomplete. Sure, people like to talk about themselves—but not with everyone.

People only want to talk about themselves with people they have some reason to care about.  

It’s not perfectly nice, but it’s the truth. When people we don’t know or respect barrage us with questions, we often just want them to scram—and that phenomenon is especially pronounced in locations where there are lots of other people to meet (like networking events and bars).

So what should I do to have a good conversation if not ask questions?

Start with this principle: People admire, respect and want to talk to those with non-judgmental conviction in their own values.

If all you do is ask questions, you’re not showing any conviction in your values; you’re not even showing your values. But, if you make statements about your values or follow your questions up with those kinds of statements, it is a whole ‘nother ballgame.

Take the example of the senior VP at the networking event—say you’ve gotten on the conversation of his interests:

Him:  “Yeah my family and I took a trip out west to go skiing last week.  It was fantastic.”

You:  “Oh wow, had you been out there before?”

Him:  “Yeah we try to go every year.  The kids love it.”

You:  “What was the best part?”

Him:  “I guess this one trail that is like 45 minutes long, it had beautiful views throughout.”

You:  “Wow sounds great.  Where would you like to go next?”

Him:  “I’m thinking Utah.  I hear they have great powder . . . excuse me, I’m going to grab a drink . ..”

All questions—good ones too…but people will tire eventually.

Contrast that with the following:

Him:  “Yeah my family and I took a trip out west to go skiing last week. It was fantastic.”

You:  “That sounds amazing—I’m not much of a skier, but I love to mountain bike. There is nothing like that heightened awareness you get when you’re flying down the side of a mountain. I’m an addict for all things that do that.”

Him:  “Me too . . .”

Now you’ve shown something about yourself—and it doesn’t matter that you’ve never skied or that he’s never mountain biked. It doesn’t matter if you love those sports for totally different reasons. Because when you cut through the surface level facts of what you’re talking about, there are always deeper values.

A love of adventure, of pushing boundaries, of escaping the mundane—you demonstrated those values when explaining why you love mountain biking.

And every human being can relate somehow to them.

So when meeting new people, don’t just barrage them with questions—don’t simply establish what they do or what they love.

Relate to them; take the information you get in the first questions and use it as an opportunity to reveal something about yourself.

Don’t worry if what you have to say doesn’t totally agree with their statement—you can even have opposite feelings. You can say that you’re not an adrenaline junkie at all—that unwinding for you is more about getting sucked into a good book (Game of Thrones, cough cough).

As long as you are revealing your values in a non-judgmental way, you’ll have lots to talk about and no one will be offended.

They will probably even respect you for the courage it took to show how you are different.

More important than agreeing with everything is revealing the things that are important to you. Showing conviction in those feelings and beliefs builds respect, maintains interest and encourages them to share the things that are important to them.

How to incorporate this into your own life

First, get clear on your values—right now, take a minute to think it through or write them down: What is important to you? What is life about? What do you love to do and why? What do you hate and why?

This should give solid insight into your own values.

Now ask yourself, how do your decisions reflect those values? Did you quit your job because you love autonomy? Did you move back to your hometown because you believe in family first? 

Identify the manifestations of your values so you can share them with other people.

Then, the next time you find yourself in conversation asking more than two-to-three consecutive questions, slow down.

(Remember, the goal of conversation is not simply to get someone talking about themselves—it is to relate to one another’s values.)

So listen to their answers and see what values they are revealing—do they love their work? Do they have a passion for sports?

Then reveal something related about your own values—the work you’ve done in listing them out will help here.

If they love their work, tell them about how you left your last job because you weren’t making the impact you wanted. And then, how you spent six months searching for your dream job.

If they care about sports, share your truth. I personally don’t care to watch professional sports, but love to play on the beach—the best part of my day every day is when I toss the football with the Brazilian kids who have never seen one.

The point should be clear: 

A good conversation is not about just getting someone to open up and talk about themselves.

It’s not about you agreeing with everything they say; it’s not even about you connecting on things that you have in common.

It is about comparing, contrasting and relating to one another’s values.  

Find opportunities to share yours with conviction and without judgment—other people will follow suit and you’ll make connections like never before.

This article was authored by Ben Altman from Charisma On Command. (If you found this piece helpful, check out “How To Be More Confident: 3 Pillars Of Unshakable Self Confidence.” 

[image: via shutterstock]

About the Author:

Ben Altman

Ben Altman writes at Charisma On Command. He shares ideas backed by behavioral science for mastering your charisma in all situations, from the boardroom to a cocktail party.


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