Hey man, do you ever have those moments you feel nobody is listening to you? People just opt out. Or, they stand by politely,… but their body already pivots, waiting for a lull in your story to get the fuck out of there.
I used to have those moments a lot! Still a bit nowadays, but I know it is because I ramble about DnD to everyone. (We don’t care about your level 8 Paladin!)
Haha, that’s my bad, but in the past, I didn’t have a clue how to interest people. So I ‘chose’ to bore them instead. Only acting on the ‘safe’ side. Only ever being polite and talking about boring mundane subjects. Well turns out, nobody cares about that.
Sure small talk has its uses, it’s step up to more interesting stories. But nobody wants to ramble indefinitely about superficial subjects. Nah, people want to connect over shared emotions and stories!
Luckily nowadays it’s my colleagues that bore me!… or well,… fuck, I mean I’m less at fault now. The case is, a lot of people could use help being less dull! They bore everyone to shit, only ever talking about their car, rabbit, work or other trifling trivia.
So! If you feel like unable to connect and your stories lack spice and emotion,… listen up, because it’s your chance to become more interesting!
Interesting interested interests
So how? How can you engage people? There are lots of things you can do, but it starts with receiving and not sending. By being truly curious about other people!
I’ve talked at length about this before, but this is the key to great conversation. This means asking about their lives, what they love to do. Find out about what they find interesting, then truly listen.
But small talk,…?
Yes, this starts off as small talk, but that is fine. Small talk is a warm-up exercise, where you level out to each other’s way of thinking and communicating. It helps you understand the other a bit.
As you become a better small talker, you’ll automatically adjust your social dynamic. For instance ramping up your energy more with excited, extroverted people. Dampening it more with people who are calmer.
Now the following is important because here a lot of people go wrong. Once you get each other a bit, you go beyond the superficial small talk. You don’t keep on talking about mundane stuff because it feels safe! You ask more emotional questions, you dig deeper into the into their minds and hearts.
That means asking WHY. “Why did you end up being an architect?” “Why did you choose to live in New York?” “What got you here?” Zoom in to the emotions that drive them! Why didn’t they stay in some upstate backwater? Find out, be curious. Don’t get a satisfying answer at once, try asking why in a few different ways. In general, people love talking about themselves, especially about who they really are!
As you listen, let the other shine, put them in the spotlight, it will brighten their day!
Even now if you dive into people’s drives, don’t go for it all at once, but steadily build this up. Introverted people will open up more slowly than excitable people, and that is fine. Adjust a bit.
There will always be people, you will only get mundane answers from; “just because” “I don’t know”. Heck, there are just boring people you try to connect with. Well if that happens, bummer. Move one, you are not to blame.
As you ask questions, show you are listening, look people in the face. The non-verbal aspect of connecting is very important. I know, I used to think I have very cool Nikes as well, but do look up! Someone’s face tells so much!
Furthermore, make sure you display open body language. Really display that you are listening. Use cues like, nodding, humming, an: “aha” “I see” “Keep going”.
This shows you are listening. Besides using small follow up remarks like: “go on” “how did that make you feel?” “So why did you do that?” are great ways to intensify a conversation!
So what do you say?
Let’s first assume you do know how to keep a conversation going a bit. If not, tough titty, and focus on this first.
If you can, great, let’s get better at it. So if you talk to someone, who would be more interesting: 1) the person who always talks about the same, 2) the person who has a new insight every day?
Not 1, so again, please don’t be that guy that always answers the same. The person that can only tell he is busy at work, or that their cat Mr. Snoozles sat on the couch again.
Because there is so much more to you, show it, open up and share! No more vagueries and canned stories!
“So what is interesting about me?” Your stories, your emotions, your passions! For eons people have been connecting over this.
I, for instance, love to talk about sci-fi and fantasy books. Colleagues around me find it nerdy (weird in an engineering company).But because I do talk about it. Showing vulnerability and passion. People respect me, and find me interesting for it!
Because I don’t give a flying fuck, show the real me and am willing to discuss the subject, I can create a connection. (If you want to talk about why the Hyperion Cantos is so awesome! I’m here!). Your passions are a way to show that real interesting you! The real you we want to talk to.
We want to talk person to person, not mask to mask. The more both of you can lose your social facade, the more easily you connect.
In day to day life, everyone has that big ass social mask in front of them. But by talking about highly emotional subjects, you can more easily lose your filter. You discard your made-up-external-you. Because behind that wall you keep up is the person people really want to connect with.
That’s why I told you about digging deeper with your why-questions, you peel away people’s barriers and filters. You uncover the real person behind the societal theatre. Now also show what is behind yours.
Drop the mask
As you lose your filter you can tell more emotional stories. Not necessarily sippy sappy romantic comedy scenarios. But all emotions; why were you furious at traffic? What was so scary about the weird lady in the store?
It may feel hard, you may feel defensless as you open up. Honestly, you might get hurt. But that’s ok! Being vulnerable like this is actually a display of strength.
Trust me, luck favors the bold in this, people love the person who is genuine! We all know too many drones around us – we want to connect with a person. And as you courageously open up – we will open up more easily and connect!
The best part is, you then can use your honest observations as humor of normal life. Share your quirky thoughts (what’s the deal with airline food!). Because more often than not, people will relate to how you think! Tell them weird thoughts, everybody has them, but few people share them.
Don’t wait for permission to have fun, tell something interesting and be you! Share your unique perspective, that is what people want to know about :)!
Be open enough to share your opinion, even in heavily polarized times. But the key is, also be open to the opinion of someone else. A bit of conflict makes for a great conversation! Just don’t be a dick, ask questions and be willing to learn from their arguments. Literally ask: “But what do you think?” “Why do you think that’s true?”
How you tell stories
Besides what you ask and tell, there is a big aspect of HOW you do it. First of all, the best vibe you can give is a positive one. Be upbeat. You don’t have to excude ADHD energy levels, but do be positive.
Besides, I can’t link this TED talk enough, it’s like the 50th time by now, but use your full vocal toolbox. If you are a bit monotone, or dry in your expression, explore, train and use the full spectrum of your voice! This will improve your communication tenfold.
One of my workmates, a very funny guy (looks like Dwight from the office). The guy has no intonation at all! It takes all my attention to notice his jokes,… but they blow right past most people! What a waste, so much more people could enjoy his humor if he would know how to use intonation. So use the link above, learn and practice :)!
Besides learning how to use your voice, learn when to use it. This is hard to put into text, so I always suggest you watch more of your favorite speakers, actors or comedians.
Pay attention to how they use their voice, pace and timing to create tension, interest, and laughs. Make notes, or absorb it. As you tell your stories, try to adopt their way of storytelling a bit! My favourites to learn from: Dave Chapelle, Barak Obama, and Seth Meyers.
For now, use these lessons to be more interesting, show more interest, open up through your feelings and communicatie it with your voice and body!
Give me an update at firstname.lastname@example.org to tell me how things went or what you learned! Excited to hear about your experience.