Oct 4, 2011

How to start conversations and other interpersonal skills

A couple of days ago I was openly complaining about people making comments on a person's looks: I was arguing that when a person makes a neutral or negative statement about our physical appearance (e.g. "you look tired" or "new haircut"), it could make us feel uncomfortable and awkward. A friend said that sometimes people might use that as a way of starting conversations: however, it has been proven scientifically that starting conversations by pointing out an aspect of our appearance is very inefficient, conductive to self-consciousness, loss of spontaneity, and even annoyance. So, I am going to reveal here my strategies to start conversations out of the blue, 100% field tested, very easy to use, and extremely effective.

But before we go to the specific strategies there are some things we should consider:

Do we really want to start that conversation? To figure this out we must calculate the boredom factor, that is, the chance that the person we want to talk to is actually exasperatingly boring. Because, sad as it is, there are people just too boring to talk to, there are human beings that for numerous reason have suppressed their innate ability to converse. So, we should wonder, is it worthy to have this conversation? To calculate the boredom factor we must weight the background knowledge that we have on this person (if we know that person from before, say a classmate or coworker) against the vibe we get from the person as he or she is located in our vicinity, the moment prior to the beginning of the conversation.

The other thing we must consider is: are we accustomed to awkward silences? This is because we humans feel compelled to initiate a conversation just to avoid an awkward silence, disregarding sometimes the fact that it might be about a hundred times more awkward to have a forced and lousy conversation with plenty of uncomfortable smiling and eye-contact avoidance. So, once we have assessed the boredom factor and we have decided that it is useless to start a conversation... then, the awkwardness of the silence will just vanish away and we will feel no pressure to initiate the conversation.

The last thing we should consider about initiating a conversation is the difficulty level. This is important because it is harder to converse with certain type of people. Difference in social status might make a conversation hard to begin because we could feel a little intimidated... the higher the social status of the person we want to talk to, the harder it will be: say for example, starting a conversation with the boss, a person significantly wealthier than us, a very attractive person, a person of extreme coolness, a professor or a person with a reputation of having a way above average intelligence. Usually it is the person of higher status that will initiate and lead the conversation, this is the norm... but if the contrary happens and the person of higher status we want to talk to does not initiate conversation or show interest in doing it, we must not hesitate and start it ourselves. As a matter of fact, people are just people no matter how beautiful, intelligent, cool, or wealthy they are: after all, we all fart, burp, pee, and shit.

Alright, so now we are ready for the specific strategies.

1. We want to talk to someone we have never met.

This is extremely easy... if it is the friend of a friend at a party, or someone from the same workplace, or a classmate we have never talked to before; in general a person we don't know but with a connection to us, we can start by introducing ourselves.

Say I am talking to a girl:

Tanai: Hey, I'm Tanai, what's your name?
Person: I'm Cutie.
T: Where are you from?
P: I'm from Paris.
T: Really, I thought you were from Latin America, do you speak Spanish?
P: Un poquito.
T: Perfect pronunciation... bla, bla, bla.

Say I am talking to a guy:

T: Hey man, what's up! What's your name?
P: I'm Mr. Cool Guy.
T: Where are you from?
P: I'm from Australia.
T: Awesome, I've never been but I'd love to go sometime.
P: Where are you from?
T: Colombia, do you work here? I've seen you a few times...  bla bla bla.

We can also start a conversation with people we do not know by using an opinion opener. We simply ask for an opinion about whatever:

T: Hey, can I get an opinion on something?
P: Sure.
T: What do you think about tattoos in people? (I've been saying that lately).
P: I think they look cool; I actually have one in my leg.
T: Really? Did you do it here in this city? I've been thinking about getting a tattoo and bla bla bla.
T: Hey, what's your name by the way.
P: Mrs. Sunshine.
T: I'm Tanai, nice to meet you... bla bla bla.

It is a bit harder to talk to people we do not know and we have no connection whatsoever, say for example, at a bar or nightclub... this is because of social conditioning. However it is all in the mind... I have done it plenty of times. In this kind of situations I would start the conversation in very similar ways as above, however I would be paying more attention at the comfort levels of the person I would be talking to.

2. The exaggeration way.

This could be one of my favorite ways to start conversations... particularly with people I have talked to before a few times. We just make a hyperbolic comment about whatever.

Say, we are having lunch with colleagues and silence reigns:

T: Oh my god, this is the most delicious chicken I've ever tasted in my life.
P: hahaha, are you serious?
T: not really, hehe, but it's good. How do you like your food?
P: It's alright.
T: What's your favorite food?
P: hmmm, I don't kn... (interrupt)
T: I love duck... I had never tried duck before I came to France. Can you cook?
P: Yeah, but I'm not that good... can you?
T: I'm an expert... bla bla bla.

Another one:

T: I've never been so happy in my life, today is a great day of celebration.
P: Oh! What are you celebrating?
T: LIIIFE!!!!
P: hahaha
T: I hope this weekend comes really soon, do you have any plans for the weekend?
P: Gonna visit my sister.
T: Oh cool, where does she lives?
P: In Nice...
T: I've never been to Nice, I've heard is very pretty bla bla bla.

3. Forcing a conversation.

Say we are trying to start a conversation with someone, but that person is making it hard by not giving much information. So we bombard that person with questions even if they are redundant.

T: Hey, what's up!
P: Hi.
T: How are you?
P: It's OK.
T: Alright, haha, how's life going?
P: Everything is good.
T: Nice, what have you been up to?
P: Just finishing work...
T: Was it a hard day?
P: Yeah.
T: Lots of stuff to do?
P: Yeah, I was writing a manuscript. (If by this moment I can not get anything to grab on to, I would drop the conversation and let silence reign).
T: Oh really, what about?

4. Weather.

This just works... lame but safe.

T: Nice sunny day.
P: Yeah, it's really nice.
T: It could actually be the last warm day of the year... (cry).
P: Hahaha, I've read that this weekend is going to stay warm bla bla bla.
T: How's life by the way...
P: It's all good, I'm going to Spain next week... bla bla bla.

Another:

T: It's so dark and cold. It sucks big time!
P: Yeah, I haven't seen the sun in like a week.
T: True. I need some holidays and escape to some sunny island.
P: Yeah, that'd be nice.
T: How's life by the way...

Alright... now we know a few strategies for starting conversations. Most people like to talk so it should not be that difficult. Whatever stupid shit we say should do the work and let's not feel bad if we feel like we have nothing to say… we don’t have to talk all the time or initiate all the conversations.