I still have a few painful memories of my first awkward dates when I was in High School; some rather unlucky girls were treated to an awkward, but well meaning, Rob Jolles. At the time, I thought I was quite a prize. After all, I wasn’t a person who had nothing to say. In fact, I was the complete opposite: I had plenty to say, plenty of funny stories to tell, and plenty of backup stories just in case I ran out of my funny stories. Oh yes, I thought I was quite the prize. Unfortunately, I didn’t ask questions, and I also wasn’t a very good listener. In other words, I may have been quite the bore!
Many people believe that being able to carry on conversations naturally, while putting those around us at ease, are skills that we are born with. Some believe that you can’t be taught these skills. Well, I’m here to tell you that nothing could be further from the truth.
Eleanor Roosevelt was known for her very gracious and sincere public image, and she possessed tremendous sensitivity to the underprivileged. Growing up, she described herself as awkward and uncomfortable around others. Abraham Lincoln was admired as a man who could charm anyone who he crossed paths with, and yet, it is well known that he was an introvert who struggled with every day conversations.
So what skills did these two great leaders possess? Either consciously or unconsciously, they understood the art of conversation, or chit chat. Here are three tips you can use to master the art of chit chat.
- Ask Questions. One would think that talking a lot and telling lots of stories would make you the bell of the ball, but this is not necessarily true. Engaging others with questions will put them at ease, and makes them feel valued. It’s not an opinion; it’s a fact.
“The easier you make it for others around you to speak, the more interesting they will find speaking to you.”
- Be in the moment. Questions don’t count if you don’t listen to the answers. That means you cannot plaster a blank expression on your face while you mull over the next question on your list. You need to actively listen, and focus on the response you are hearing. You don’t need to be worrying about the next question you can ask. If you stay in the moment, and truly listen to what’s being said, intelligent follow-up questions will present themselves. You’ll certainly have a better chance of extending the conversation by focusing on the responses you are hearing rather than preparing for the next question.
- Be aware of your nonverbal cues. When we are engaged in conversation, a whole host of nonverbal behaviors are in play. Fidgeting should be kept to a minimum. Facial expressions and eye contact should be natural, and not forced. You are not there to stare down those you are engaged with. You are there to put them at ease while letting them know how interested you are in what they have to say.
You’ll notice that I didn’t suggest that you “tell fascinating stories” or “talk.” In fact, that’s the easy part. There will be plenty of opportunities for you to dazzle those around you with how much you know, or with that story you’d like to tell. For now, just remember that you can be the most interesting person in the room by simply being focused on those around you and in what they have to say.