It often happens with us, our conversations slip through our fingers like sand. Everything seems to be going alright, then, all of a sudden, it isn’t. We try to analyze (read, overthink), what went wrong and create some palliative measures for the next time. But, the vicious cycle of planning and failing continues. The proverbial smooth talker inside us seems like a unicorn now.
Fret not, success is preconditioned on failure. And you are strong, so you will again go into the battlefield of conversations because no man is an island and being social is how we boost our life’s returns to us.
So, let’s revisit the art of conversation again.
The Holy Trifecta
There are three aspects of a long-lasting, meaningful conversation:
- First Impression
First impression is just like saving the contact information of the person in front of you, whether there will be a call or not depends on whether the interpersonal rapport is established between you two. Then, if rapport has been established, then, the conversation starts but it depends on your listening skills whether it will long last or not.
The Art of Listening
Loretta Lynch says it best:
Everyone wants to be seen. Everyone wants to be heard. Everyone wants to be recognized as the person that they are and not a stereotype or an image.
We all know and are well-versed with the truth that we judge people by how they look, they dress, they speak and every and any action they do is scrutinized by us. We all are walking Judge Judy. We come pre-fitted with this feature and there are no backsies on this one.
But, still, we all as a single-mindedly universalized the heck out of this one:
Don’t judge a book by its cover.
Because we understood one thing. That even though however, people may look or do, there is a redeeming quality in everyone. Because it was not people realized by themselves. It happened to them. Don’t do unto others what you don’t want done unto you. This Confucian quote, when we realized we spoke the golden words of not judging people again. We felt unheard, misunderstood, by the circumstances or just pure chance. But, it happened and we dread that moment now.
Sometimes to solve the puzzle you just have to flip it. So, flip this one. Just like you felt unheard, misunderstood, the same way, the other person feels too. Then, why it is necessary that only we get to blow the horn. It has to be equal exchange so that both leave the table feeling understood and heard.
Now, if you are a Chatty Cathy, I would sympathize with you that you can’t stop but you are still a human who has some mental fortitude to control the urge. That is the only thing that separates us from animals is, right? We all are a generation of broken hearts and broken people, but its the cracks that paint the picture of our personality. So, let’s heal each other.
That was the emotional part, let’s work out some logic now.
TREAD THE WATERS
This is the step one. In the dead of winter, some bravehearts, go to have a swim, but, they still dip a toe first to know what they are facing.
Just like that when the conversation starts, you should focus on finding the common point where you can relate with the other person using small, probing questions. If you try to find God, you’ll find him, so finding the common point shouldn’t be so daunting. But, still, let me give some pointers.
What is a person comprised of?
Their core identity, their profession, their interests, their childhood. In childhood, you pick up interests, and if you are lucky, you convert them into a profession, if not, then, the interests stay with you as an integral part of yourself, the happy place of yours. All of this creates a unique core identity as unique as fingerprints and irises.
First, search this area with your questions. So, start the treasure hunt, it could anything from books to pottery to sitcoms to soccer.
Usually, your search will stop at the first sanctum of questions. If it doesn’t then, branch out. Go to the topic of parents, siblings and children, if any.
Start with something fun like where did you last holiday, what was it like, then, ask what did they miss the most at home and tada! You found what they missed most and then, go from there.
Face a conversation like an adventure, you never know where you are going to end up.
ASK AND THY SHALL RECEIVE
Now, you found the starting thread of the yarn, now start unrolling it. There is a certain, subtle art of asking a question.
Never asked close-ended questions. A closed question is like cul-de-sac you will hit your head at the dead end. You will end up with a YES/NO and then, again, you will be at square one and avoiding eye-contact with the other person because you are thinking what should I ask next?
To keep the traffic of words flowing between both of you ask open-ended questions.
If you are not familiar with the breed of open-ended and closed-ended questions, then:
So, from now onwards, make sure to never commit the folly of asking a closed-ended question.
An added bonus tip for the open questions is that use sensory verbs to bring out emotions from the other person.
So, put the spice of verbs like ‘feel’, ‘hear’, ‘tell’ and ‘see’. Add this into the repertoire of your questions. This will boost the effectiveness of your questions 10X and the flow of conversation will be further improved. What you are actually doing is asking the person to wade through the water of their emotions to get you a pearl that is near and dear to them. This will like cement to your house of rapport that is another part of the holy trifecta of conversations.
ACTIVELY LISTEN AND PROVE IT
There is a sea of difference between active-listening and passive-listening. And everybody gets if you are doing one or the other. So, no cheating. If you want to be heard, really heard, then the other person should be actively listening to you. So, don’t exculpate yourself from the same responsibility.
We think looking at the person and nodding your head while thinking about something else, would do the trick. NO, the other person gets to know that you were not listening.
Be interested, otherwise, why even be at the table? People remember the emotions of events, not the details, so, bring out your empathy on the table and use it to the fullest, understand the other person and you will feel connected and engrossed in the conversation before you know it.
Here’s a bonus tip, to really prove you were listening, while you are talking quote something they said or did, starting with ‘Just like you’. An example, “Just like you went to that place once, I also went once, I had a great time, I went to that place then that happened…”. This proves you listened. Also, the other person will acknowledge this statement with a ‘Ya’. So, here you get a YAY for boosting the rapport further.
ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS
Communication is at two levels: Verbal and then, the subtle Non-Verbal.
While you are listening, you should affirm the other person by saying the occasional “Hm”, “Oh”, “Oops”, “Aha”, “Aww” and “Wow”. To really go overboard, show your surprise with “Really”, “I can’t believe it” and “What happened next?”. Have the look on your face like you are child and you are getting candy handed to you. Use sparingly but it works like charm.
This is the easy part. Next, comes the non-verbal part.
Nod like your life depends on it, not literally, though. The vertical nod is the non-verbal way of saying “I got you bro, pour your heart out”. The subtle, serene vertical head nod is the one, you need to go for.
Eye contact is one of the pillars of non-verbal communication. Make eye contact plentiful but not too much. You don’t want to be the one staring at them, right, that makes people uncomfortable. Too much eye contact is staring, to steer clear of that road.
So, don’t be like this:
If you are sitting, which you would mostly be, come forward or to the edge of the seat to show that you are really, really interested.
Just because you are not speaking, it doesn’t mean you can’t speak. Action speak a thousand times louder and thousand more than words could.
Armed with these tools, I wish you all the love and luck for a far more improved social life.
If you want to further read about this, here’s the book.
Abhishek Verma is a researcher in the field of deep learning and artificial intelligence. He likes to write about the logical way of self-improvement. Spurred by emotions, he also likes to write poetry. Stay in touch by joining his newsletter. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and Mix.