Being the newbie at Well Done has led me to rediscover the skills many seem to have forgotten over the last year—how to meet new people and have conversations with strangers.
While chit chatting with people you’ve never met might be panic inducing for some, I’ve found that you’re never far from a good story—if you can find your way there. Having a good conversation requires three main things: you’re willing to offer as much of yourself as they are, you’re ready to ask questions, and you’re genuinely interested.
So, as the weather gets better and we emerge from our pandemic hibernation, I’d like to remind you of a few tips for having a good conversation. It’s been a while, but I bet you have some great stories up your sleeve just waiting to be told!
Winning friends and chatting up strangers
- Introduce yourself, and offer something of yourself first.
This is your first opportunity to direct the conversation to things you might have in common with your new friend, or a place to direct it to what you’d like to know about them. Are you a regular here because they make your favorite burger? Tell them! Before you know it, you’re talking about the best burgers in town. Is this your first time here, but they’re a regular? Now you’re asking them for their recommendations.
- If someone invited you both, offer up your relationship to that person.
Are you with the bride or the groom? I’m Stacey’s favorite cousin from Idaho. Now you’ve got a few things to start talking about together: Idaho, who the rest of the cousins are, what makes you the favorite.
- Remember their name.
There are two keys to doing this: actually listening to them (don’t plan out your next question or witty retort while they’re speaking) and using their name as you’re talking to them. It’s nice to meet you, Philip. I’ve never met a Philip I didn’t like. Don’t be afraid to ask them to pronounce it again—getting it right is important to both of you.
- Ask them how they ended up in the same place you did.
You’re both in a place that’s not your home! Why you each chose the location is a good place to start finding out about them. Is this their favorite place for tacos? Did they get dragged along by a friend celebrating something?
- If you, like me, are meeting new people at work, ask them what brought them there.
Few people enter employment accidentally (and if they do—what a good story!). I bet they have some pretty interesting reasons for spending 40 hours of their week doing whatever it is that they do. If you really want to know about a company or organization, ask your soon-to-be work friends what keeps them coming back day after day.
- Keep your body language open.
We’ve been alone in our homes for so long, it’s easy to forget that part of keeping a conversation going is looking like you want that to happen. Specifically, face your conversation partner—as soon as you point your shoulders away from them, you’re physically opening up the conversation for others to join it. A smile and a nod go a long way to indicating you’re listening and interested. Don’t pull out your phone or look at your watch. You’re in the real world and they can see you get distracted.
- Offer your answers to the questions you ask, too.
If all you’re doing is asking questions, you’re interviewing them, not having a conversation. Often the key to keeping things going is sharing your experience with what they just spoke about. You don’t want to dominate the conversation with rambling and unrelatable stories, but offering your own take gives them something to ask questions about as well.
- My favorite conversational tool is one phrase: “tell me more about that.”
Did they drop an interesting fact into an otherwise normal conversation? Was that stray comment about the new hobby they picked up? Were they reading an article the other day and have a fascinating take? Did they just mention the novel they’ve been writing? Tell me more about that!
- Have a few questions for when the well runs dry.
- Tell me about your favorite meal you’ve ever had and why?
- What was your first concert and the best concert you ever saw?
- What’s the best gift you’ve ever given or received?
- What are your top travel destinations?
- What’s on your bucket list for this summer?
- What did you miss most last year?
- Did you pick up a hobby last year/recently?
- What was the last thing you read and loved?
- If you could give your former self any advice what would it be?
- Looking back, what were the pivotal moments that got you here?
- Ultimately, the real key to all of this is to listen.
People like talking about the things they love, or worked hard on, or remember fondly. There’s a really great conversation just waiting for you. You just have to ask.