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Growing up was complicated. Discovering the whole social scene can be exciting as much as it can be frightening. I had zero social skills as a kid. Striking a conversation would end up being a complete disaster most of the time.
I would either talk too much or say too little. There was no in between. It was a strange period. I was a weird kid. Balanced conversations were elusive as that millionaire life I hoped I'll casually step into after college. Both require rigid work, I found out the hard way.
My path to develop basic conversation skills was painful. I had no idea what I was doing. I'd open my mouth and hope for the best. Like gambling at the roulette table. Pick a number and hope it works out at the end.
Sometimes it would be a blast, other times, not so much. Talking to girls was an exceptional drag. I remember trying to make conversation to the girls I'd like. Just memories of those moments still hurt. Fear and insecurities would shiver down my spine like an electroshock. My palms would sweat and I would blab out too much. Strangle them with a monologue. Or I would be a total jackass, trying to pretend like I was too cool to talk to them. It was uncomfortable. A balance was nowhere in sight.
I remember trying to talk to Antonia one day. Girl I was a fond of. We were both in early grades of high school. I approached her and immediately insulted her about her appearance. No other way to start the conversation when you are 14.
"Your teeth are so straight," I said.
"Thank you, Toni. That is so sweet."
"Like your whole body," I added.
She made that look when she crucifies you with her eyes.
I continued rumbling about myself.
She left midway through the conversation with clear disgust.
It was hard. For both of us. I had no intention of being an imbecile. Ideas on what to do were so elusive. My insecurities would get the best of me.
Then, one day, I heard a sentence which changes my life. It was so simple. Yet, so powerful. Why did it not occur to me sooner? I asked myself.
One of my best friends was talking about someone being annoying. He said:
Why can't she just listen and share relevant information? I'm sick of her hijacking conversations with no clear purpose.
At that moment, it struck me. Just Listen and share relevant information. Wow, is that really all I need to do?
This was a major milestone at the time. It was great for understanding the basic dynamics of talking. It turns out listening was more then most people do. But it is not enough to strike a meaningful and interesting conversation every time.
High school days are behind. Thank god. We have an opportunity to move forward. Hopefully, I'll stop feeling the embarrassment one day.
From all the pain and struggle, I learned a few important things about talking. Let me share them with you.
This list won't compile those "Look them in the eyes" or "Repeat the last words"advice. They are a clear hogwash.
Having an interesting conversation can be difficult no matter the age. After high school, we still feel challenged to reach a meaningful connection from time to time.
Let's see the 5 ways to engage people and leave a stellar impression.
1. Don't multitask.
This doesn't mean you should just leave your phone or stop playing with your hands. Be present in the conversation. Be there. Don't let your thoughts distract you. If you remember something, keep it out of your mind. It is easy to wander off to digression. They can leave a person feeling like they couldn't share their message with you.
"I'm planning a trip to London later this month. I'm so excited." Sarah says.
"You know what's funny", With a distant look in his eyes, John adds, "Dodgers won't even make the playoffs this season."
"Where is this guy?" Sarah says to herself.
2. Ask open-ended questions.
There are two types of question one can ask. Dichotomous and Open-ended questions.
Dichotomous questions have only two answers: Yes or No. Avoid such inquiries.
Emerge yourself in open-ended questions. 'Who', 'What', 'Where', 'When' or 'Why' are always a good pick. Let them answer. Don't assume much.
If you ask something along the lines of "Were you afraid to drive the car for the first time?", People will tend to answer with just "Yes, it was frightening."
But, If you construct an open-ended question you can gain much more conversation juice. "What was it like to drive for the first time?". They have more things they can possibly share with you.
3. Don't pretend to know things you don't.
Sometimes you can fool people about being an expert in something you know nothing about. Most times, people will see this a mile away. They won't care as much to tell you they know you are bullshitting your way through. It shows. It's tiresome. They might feel like you find them to be of lesser intelligence.
Don't be annoying. Talk about the stuff you are expert in. Share YOUR experience.
"I know everything there is to know about Yoga. I was practicing it for decades. People call me sensei. "John says
"Alright. I'm having difficulties with my firefly pose, sensei. How can I perfect it? " Shara asks.
"Ugh, firefly pose is just a form of lotus. You should be more flexible. Stretch more." John shares his false wisdom
"This guy has no idea what he's talking about," Shara thinks to herself.
"O=K." She adds.
4. Don't equate their affairs with yours.
This one can be especially annoying. Conversations are not a self-promotional opportunity. Some people try to make them be. They will center themselves in your no matter what are you talking about. Listen to the person you are talking to. Don't be the person that hijacks the conversation with their troubles.
"I have so many issues at work. I dropped a tray full of soft drinks at the guest in my restaurant. It happened right in front of my manager. I was so embarrassed." Sharan shares.
"I know. I hate my job as well. I always struggle with my boss. He wants me to work so much. It is a drag. I can find a much better opportunity elsewhere." John says and continues to talk about his job.
5. Don't repeat yourself!
Keep track of what you said. No one wants to listen to the same story over and over again. It's annoying. Also, repeating something to emphasize the point is just as awful. You may just provoke the listener to stop listening. It is condescending. Repeating the same questions and not listening to the answer is an absolute nightmare as well. Focus on clear and efficient communication.
"Have I told you the story about Frank and I fishing? The time we caught an enormous seabass." = John says and continues talking about the story.
"Please god, no. I heard the story four times. If he continues talking, I'm going to draw blood." - Sarah thinks. Her face is showing clear distress.
Navigating everyday conversation can be difficult at times. Especially, if we are trying to leave a good impression. Meaningful connections are hard to come by these days. The list will help you be more presentable. It should also shine a light on the dynamics of interesting conversations.
"We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak." - Epictetus.
In all fairness, there is no point on this list that will help you if you don't actively listen to the person you are talking to. Listening is a cornerstone of every interesting conversation. The most memorable conversations I had was when I listened with great attention. Don't listen with the intention to replay. Listen with the intention to understand. This way you might just see the social magic unfold in front of your eyes.