We have all had the experience of making stilted conversation that just doesn't seem to hook our conversational partner. "I like your belt."
"Um… where did you get it?"
"I don't remember."
"You don't huh? Yeah, well… I guess I'll see you later."
"Okay, I guess I'll see you then."
Blah. We want to make conversation that sticks, that gets the other person talking back. INVESTMENT is the word. So how do we do that?
There is one secret that I come back to over and over again. It's simple but easily overlooked. It's powerful but takes a re-framing of your mind.
It's this: Talk about what the other person is good at talking about.
For example Dan and I were in San Francisco last weekend helping a client. The three of us walked into a Starbucks. I saw an attractive girl in line. I walked up to her.
"Hi there," I said. "I noticed you have that bag from the art store. I bet you do… graphic design."
"Actually I'm studying product design."
"Ah, very cool. That would be fun I think. Figuring out the way to shape a practical object into something beautiful."
"Oh yeah it is. Have you heard of Jonathan Ive?"
"He's one of my influences. He did the designs for the Mac."
"Very cool. I want to learn more after my friends and I get our coffees. Actually, I'll send them over. They need to get more in touch with their inner designer."
Ten minutes later and they were all together talking (I had to go meet Erika). Here's a pic through the window by the way.
There's a moment where typically you may reach for something witty to say. Instead choose to find a way to tap into what the other person probably can talk about - a lot.
Another example, the girl who works at the cafe where I'm writing this just walked up to me and asked if I was parked on the side street. This is a courtesy that she's doing for the customers since about this time the city begins ticketing the cars on that street. I told her I wasn't parked there but rather on the other street. I pointed to my Vespa with pride. "That's my ride right there."
"Okay," she said and began to depart. She doesn't have anything more to say about parking or my Vespa. If I want to keep her around I need to choose a topic that she knows and can talk about.
I put out my hand. "Hey, before you go I'm curious what it's like to work in a cafe."
She stopped and thought about that for a moment. "It has its good and bad," she said.
I nodded. "I bet like any job. But I think I'd like it. You get to meet people and be social. And you never know who's coming in the door next. It could be Justin Bieber."
She made a face. "I don't like him."
"Ha. Well, it's just an example. I bet you could run this cafe by yourself."
Notice how I don't get sidetracked by Justin Bieber - tempting though it is. I go back to what SHE knows.
She moved closer to my table, sat down. "I think so. But let me tell you how hard it really is…."
She talked a lot then. Too much even. I couldn't get her to shut up. But now she loves me. She remembers me. And she will help me when I need her.
You can do the same thing. It only takes being conscientious of your conversational habits and applying your intuition about people. Sometimes you will be wrong about their field of expertise and sometimes you will learn your cliché views are mistaken. To talk to people's field of expertise is to be a constant neophyte. But you will get people talking back to you and liking you. Sometimes too much.
There are other ins and outs of this conversational idea. Your mileage may vary. And alas, nothing is as simple as reading it on a website. If you want to learn further and take your conversational habits to the next level, consider signing up for my Conversation Camp. You can see all of our camp dates here.
All the best and good luck, Wayne Elise