Talking to people is hard. How the heck do you connect? What do you say? How do you find common ground? It makes your heart pound and your mind feel stuffed. It’s just agonizing.
If you have a hard time talking to people, one of the most common advices is: Ask questions!
Absolutely right, that's part of the answer. When applied, somehow a lot of you guys feel like you fall in interview mode. Asking question, after question,…only interrogating. Just getting simple answers back. Not really having a conversation.
So, interview mode isn’t working.
But it can work! Interview mode actually can be very effective. Maybe so far you are only getting stale conversations. But believe me, spice it up with a few key ingredients and you can make it work! You just need a few tweaks.
1. Quest for common ground
Asking questions gets a conversation going. You want to look for subjects you both like. By rapidly firing questions, you can push through mundane small talk and find that common ground faster.
Let me give you an example and explain:
So I was kinda new at my crossfit box. I knew few people there. But hey, one of the coaches organized a board game night. Planned nerddom, always awesome.
So I accepted the invitation, went there…. and you guessed it, that evening I didn’t know anyone. So what do I do? I go sit next to a guy with a big bushy beard, introduce myself and go full on interview mode!
(in all fairness this is an approximation of what happened. Like I remember every conversation I have :))
Me: enjoying your salad?
Him: yeah it is pretty good
Me: where did you get it?
Him: yeah at this place called “Salat”
Me: never heard of it
Him: Yeah it is in the city centre, and I always get it near the train station while commuting.
- So this is a boring ass conversation so far. We are talking about fucking salad. But I’m being genuinely interested in him! I use enthusiasm and pay attention! He is talking about commuting. That is an anchor I can use.
Me: Ooow, so you don’t work in Utrecht, where do you work?
Him: I work in The Hague, at the Ministry of Infrastructure.
Me: Ow cool, so how is that commute? I always hated traveling between Utrecht and Amsterdam.
Him: Ow it is good, I pop in my music, and eleven songs later, aka 30 minutes I’m at work.
- Alright and here we have a good subject to latch onto. Music. Highly emotional and interesting subject! And everyone likes music :)! So I continue:
Me: So what kind of music do you listen to?
Him: hahaha, actually only 3 genres, Classic, Rock and Hardcore.
Me: Wow, haha, please explain, that is interesting.
And from there we talked for 20 minutes about music, festivals and much more.
2. From boring to captivating
But you see, we started with boring ass small talk, about mundane stupid subjects. But by showing interest, grabbing on to little cues in the conversation, I navigated/stumbled to a subject we both like! From there you have loads of material to talk about!
2.1 Genuine interest
Why did this work? A secret ingredient! All the while I was genuinely interested in this guy. I gave my full attention, looked at him, my body facing him. Making eye contact. I was not busy with anything else including my own discomfort.
2.2 Good vibes
Besides I was very positive and energetic. I wanted to learn about the salad (well not really, but I wanted to know where to get a healthy meal :)). Being positively engaged about him commuting. There always was a bit of excitement in my voice. To show how much I liked talking and trying to connect to him.
Reread the conversation. This time imagine me being positive, pumped up and genuinely interested. Do you think it makes for a better talk already?
2.3 Open questions
Furthermore, I used open ended questions instead of closed ones. Not: “Do you like music?” to which a short yes or no will suffice. But “So what kind of music do you listen to?”. To which any answer can come.
2.4 The formula:
(positivity + interest) x interview mode = good conversation.
Your attitude towards others is so important. Often the mood you convey is what you get back. What you need is enthusiasm, undivided interest and positivity! This won’t always work, but 95% of the time it will!
3. Making it easier
But I get it, it still feels weird, you are still anxious, and you don’t feel people can like you. Even if you have common ground. Everyone feels that to a certain extent. So have you ever considered that the person you talk to feel like that as well?
3.1 Focus on their comfort
That’s why you should focus on the other. Stop thinking about yourself, but help that brother or sister out. Make them feel appreciated and special, focus on their comfort, be open and non-judgemental as they talk. Imagine how you would feel if someone talked to you like that, you would feel respected and liked right? You can give that to others! As you do, you will most likely get that back.
3.2 Opening up
As the conversation progresses a bit, open up yourself. Show a little vulnerability by showing who you are. That is where people can connect, to the real you. Besides you show you trust them, making them trust you. Often you can connect best on your truest, quirky thoughts and feelings you have.
You will see as you get a conversation going, open up and finally connect about something cool. You'll forgot about your anxiety for a while. As the connection -clicks-, you might just be enjoying yourself.
4. What to talk about
As in the example, the best subjects engage on are emotional subjects. There are universal ones, like family, friends, relaxation, music, games, news, books, movies. But you can always dig in someone’s personal emotional pool, by asking WHY. Why they like something, why they work somewhere, why they do what they do.
But you can also think about it in advance. What subjects can you relate to? Think about it, do a bit of brainstorming. Focus on subjects people feel strongly and positively about and navigate to that.
Alright, a lot of nuances to the interview mode, but I hope this helps you barrage better question at the next person you meet :)! The interview mode really helps me a lot to connect! Go ahead and try, again, be open and non-judgemental, and people will open up to you and you can truly connect!
Let me know if you have any questions :)!