Conversations are one of the greatest simple pleasures in life. It helps us connect and it helps us express our feelings. Sometimes they go well and our lives are changed forever, and sometimes they go horribly wrong, and well, our lives are also changed forever.
I was an awkward kid
A long long time ago when I was in grade school I had one of the most awkward social interactions of my entire life. It was shaping up to be a good day because we finished our in-class homework early so me and my best friend decided to take a stroll.
Overwhelmed with the amazing feeling of being out of class early, I was literally galloping along like a fawn in a Disney movie. It was then that I caught sight of my crush, and more importantly she initiated a conversation with me. It was the best day ever, or so I thought.
So a cute girl said hi to me, it was a great day, but guess what – I did not know what to say. I just stood there staring at her looking like a weirdo. Eventually something came to my mind and I tried cracking a witty joke. The joke was okay. Unfortunately, I was so tense that I made the huge mistake of laughing through my nose instead of my mouth. It just so happened that I had a heavy cold that day, so my runny nose made itself known like a firework on new year’s eve.
Looking back, I remember her face went from ecstatic to utter fear in an instant. The funny thing was she didn’t even pretend to not see that, she just saw and left and we never talked again. It’s funny to me now, but it was an extremely embarrassing moment for me back then. My best friend was laughing and I just laughed along with my tail in between my legs.
Awkward interactions always happen
We all have had awkward conversations, most of them not as extreme as my experience above, but most of them could be avoided if we simply knew the important aspects of a good conversation and a genuine connection. Just like what happened to me, we often times gets so tense that we do something stupid. I have come a long way from that awkward kid, not because I am “Mr.Smooth” but because I have made many more embarrassing mistakes that they have literally been carved into my memory.
Mistakes help you learn
Wouldn’t it be nice if we were taught the secrets to a great conversation by our parents or in school. Well here I am to save you all the trouble. You won’t have to go through all the awkward silences, bad jokes and face palms I had to go through. Just kidding, you probably still have to, but at least not as much. So here are the 10 conversation secrets everyone should know about.
1. RELAX AND LISTEN
It is true that relaxing is easier said than done. When we are faced with a person we like, we tense up because we don’t want to make a mistake. This makes us self-conscious and all the pressure dramatically increases anxiety. Anxiety that inhibits our judgement. It also affects our body in many ways such as involuntary stuttering, uncontrollable sweating, panic farting etc. We all know those things can lead to embarrassing results that can haunt you for years, especially if its so bad you become a meme.
Secret: Instead of focusing on yourself, focus on the person you are talking to. Instead of being insecure about your self-worth flip the switch and see if you truly find something unique about the person you are talking to. It works similar to a technique used by people with social phobia. Instead of looking and thinking about people around them, they focus on other things such as counting the tiles on the floor, browsing through their phone, looking at passing cars, and many more things that distract you from what may trigger your anxiety.
The thing about these things is they are merely crutches and hinder your ability to connect with other people. I mean it would be pretty weird if you just suddenly start counting tiles on the floor while in the middle of a sentence. The best way to deal with anxiety during a conversation is to remove the focus from yourself and focus understanding the personality and situation of the person you are talking to. It builds connection and reduces anxiety – a win win situation.
2. WHY SO SERIOUS
There is a time and place for deep heart felt conversations. Meeting new people is not the place for them. Unless it’s a special circumstance, people will often be overwhelmed by the sudden rush of intimate conversation and pull away. Being easily offended will equally repel people from you. Being too stiff is just no fun, and makes for an unrewarding interaction.
Secret: Don’t take things too seriously. Joke around and roll with the punches. It will make for more interesting non-committal conversations that will make someone more comfortable to stick around and chat. It’s not what you say that matters, its how you say it.
3. BE GENUINE
There are minute facial reactions that occur when we are interested in someone or when we are genuinely happy i.e. raised eyebrows, wider eyes, better posture, dilated pupils etc. that we can’t fake. People pick up on those tiny body languages subconsciously and emotionally react to it. When we become dishonest, the discomfort shows in our body language and people instinctively react to it and the conversation becomes awkward.
Secret: Its best to be honest. I’m not saying wear your heart out on your sleeve, since that can be overwhelming especially for people you just recently met. But if you are feeling down, let someone know in a subtle way such as “Sorry if I seem a bit down today, I’m just having a bad day so anyways what were you saying?” There are polite ways to say sensitive topics for the sake of being honest. Doing so will make you feel better which in turn will make the person you are talking to reciprocate the positive attitude.
4. BE POSITIVE
It can be draining to talk someone who is always negative. If all you talk about is bad news and negativity, you become associated with it and people will develop an aversion towards you.
Secret: Its best to look at the bright side of things. You become a beacon of excitement and fun, and people gravitate towards positivity. That being said, it is not a good thing to feel like you should keep things bottled in, and you should always be “Miss Perfect.” There are ways to discuss negative aspects of life in a positive way, so don’t think for a second that you have to be fake. We are all human, we all have flaws. Those flaws make you unique and you should not see them in a negative way, but in a positive way. See, you even become a better friend to yourself.
5. BE INTERESTING
A lot of people have the common misconception that they have to show others how “cool” they are by talking about the “cool” stuff that they do. That is by far the most boring thing you can do when meeting people. Ask about them, talk about their amazing experiences and relate those to your experiences creating a connection between their experiences and yours. That “Me Too!” moment is the eureka where a simple conversation blossoms into a so-close-ill-fart-even-when-your-around type of friendship.
Secret: Avoid asking too many “interview questions” that require only one answer. Instead throw in some open-ended questions. Let’s say your friend talked about her recent trip to India, ask them a question that requires them to think creatively like “What was the most exciting part of your trip?” or “Did you experience anything unexpected?”
6. TELL A STORY
The most captivating people are people who know how to tell an amazing story. You’re capability to tell a good story will highlight your personality. It helps the people you meet get to know you better and makes them want to know more about your experiences because the way you share your experience makes people care about you, makes them sympathize with your struggles, makes them feel your joy when you accomplish what you have attained. Basically if you know to how to tell a good story, you are basically taking someone on a journey with you not using your feet but using your words and expressions.
Secret: Talk about your story with emotion. Tell them how you felt about what you saw, heard, or experienced. Adding some physical gestures into it will certain increase the impact. A story with no emotion is like a 4th of July with no fireworks or a Christmas with no gifts. For a more detailed analysis Andrew Stanton, the writer and director of Pixar, talks about how to tell a great story on his TED talk.
7. DON’T BE TOO AVAILABLE
People become uncomfortable when they feel like they are trapped in a conversation even if they like the person they are talking to. It’s some kind of social pressure that tends show up once in a while and takes you off guard.
Secret: If you are in a party or gathering, exit politely by going to the bathroom or getting some food if you think the conversation is going stale. It’s also nice to give someone opportunities to exit a conversation just in case they have to get going. People have stuff to do, don’t stress about it if they to leave prematurely there is always a next time.
8. EYE CONTACT
This is by far one of the most overlooked aspect of connecting with people. If you talk to someone who doesn’t give you enough eye contact, they seem either distant or awkward. Too much and it becomes intimidating.
Secret: Don’t be afraid to make facial expressions with your eyes. A creepy stare is often times a blank emotionless stare.
9. BE UNDERSTANDABLE
Talking too fast is a common reaction when nervous. When people don’t understand you, they can’t relate to you and they will often end up just cruising through the conversation.
Secret: Take out your mobile phone and record yourself telling a story. It should give you a very good indication of what you need to work on.
10. GIVE COMPLIMENTS
Every person has something amazing to offer and it is an amazing feeling when someone acknowledges that. Don’t forget that after getting to know someone, its best to give someone a little bit of genuine compliment. Something like “You’re pretty smart” or “You’re having a good hair day” can go a long way.
Secret: A genuine compliment about someone’s uniqueness helps establish a deep connection because people often times give generalized compliments. People like to be appreciated for who they really are.
It’s easy to get lost in your own head when it comes to dealing with social matters. We feel vulnerable when we feel like we are being rejected. Don’t feel like there is something wrong with you when someone you like doesn’t reciprocate. If things don’t work out then simply move on. Don’t obsessed over it because the reason for things not working out can be one in a million reasons. Just relax and enjoy the ride.
Enjoy the little things, enjoy the small conversations, even enjoy your mistakes and the funny anecdotes. Simply enjoy meeting all kinds of people because we live in a golden age of inter-connectivity. It used to be that you’d need to ride a camel 10 days just to say hi to someone new. It’s a whole world out there, meet friends, build positive relationships and ignore the haters.