Someone’s caught your attention. Maybe they’re the funny person at school or at work and you think they would make a good friend. Maybe they’re someone who seems really insightful and you’ve been on the search for a mentor. Or maybe, they’re someone you’d like to ask out for coffee.
If you knew how to start a conversation with a guy or girl.
But the whole, uh … striking up a conversation thing might not come so easily to you. After the initial “Hello!” and “How are you?” are out of the way, your mind goes blank. An awkward silence fills the air. You smile, hoping the other person will say something, anything. Finally, you’re able to manage, “So, the weather’s been kind of weird lately, huh?”
Trust me, I can relate. In fact, were you to know me, you would understand how ironic it was that I was let anywhere near this particular topic.
Fortunately, you’re not getting your advice from me. At least, not initially. You’re getting your advice from Celeste Headlee, a journalist and professional interviewer, from her TED Talk titled “10 Ways to Have a Better Conversation.”
Want to know how to start a conversation with a guy or girl? According to Celeste, this is where you start:
1. Don’t multitask. Be present, in the moment. Don’t let your mind wander elsewhere.
2. Don’t pontificate. Set aside your personal opinions. Enter every conversation as if you have something to learn from the other person.
3. Use open-ended questions. Start your questions with who, what, when, where, why, and how. Let the other person describe things.
4. Go with the flow. Thoughts will come into your mind during the conversation. Be comfortable letting them go. You don’t have to speak them.
5. If you don’t know, say you don’t know. Err on the side of caution.
6. Don’t equate your experience with theirs. All experiences are individual, and it’s not all about you. Conversations are not a promotional opportunity.
7. Try not to repeat yourself. It’s boring.
8. Stay out of the weeds. People don’t care about dates, names, and details. They care about you, what you’re like, and what you have in common.
9. Listen! This is the most important skill. It takes effort and energy to actually pay attention to someone, but if you can’t do that, you’re not actually in a conversation. Most of us don’t listen with the intent to understand. We listen with the intent to reply.
10. Be brief. Keep your mind open and your mouth shut. Prepare to be amazed, because everyone has something fascinating about them.
That’s it. There’s no magical incantation you have to say or flaming hoop you have to jump through. The ways to start and have a meaningful conversation with someone else are, really, just super practical. Listen. Be humble. Be ready to learn.
Which … might seem like a bit of a letdown. Depending on who you are, a magical incantation or flaming hoop might seem like a desirable alternative to having to do the awkward legwork of improving your conversation skills through practical steps like those listed above. If that’s the case, let me encourage you: don’t pass these steps up.
You weren’t made to live life alone. You were made to have supportive, encouraging relationships with other people. If you look at the life you’re living and find that you’re lacking the relationships you need, you can do something about it. The doing portion won’t necessarily be comfortable. Any time you try something new, growing pains are to be expected. But in the long run, it will be worth it.
So, the next time you’re around that funny person, or that potential mentor, or that cute guy or girl, don’t fade into the background. Think back to these steps and take a chance.
Start up a conversation.