I recently took a CreativeLive course to learn how to have conversations – seems like a weird thing to learn about but having gone through numerous situations where I could not figure out what to say or think of topics to talk about, I thought this would be a good thing to learn from someone I would consider to be an ‘expert’. Many, many times I’ve just been chatting with friends and the initial conversations go well “how are you”, “how have things been”, “how was your weekend”, etc. but then it ends up drifting off into nothingness where I can’t recall the conversations that we have had in the past or land on another topic to pivot away from small talk. I don’t watch the news either so that isn’t a source of topics for conversations and while I read a ton of books, it seems weird (at least to me) to randomly bring up a book (although I many times do reference books that I have been reading or things that I have learned from books and then wonder if it makes me seem too much of a book lover).
Patrick King is a social interaction and conversation coach – and by browsing his many, many books on Amazon, it seems like he has carved out his own niche of being a conversation expert, and perhaps led a life as a dating coach at some point (not completely sure about this though). On Amazon, he has over 50 different books on conversations, likability, thinking, humour and while I haven’t purchased any of his books, I’m sure that he must have something good to say (haha) as many of his books are highly rated.
In the course, here are some of the tactics that Patrick shares in the class that I will be using in my life:
Reframe questions so that you have something to talk about
One of the questions that we often get asked when getting into work on a Monday morning is “how was your weekend”. But let’s suppose that you didn’t do very much on the weekend (or maybe all you did was eat, sleep and play video games which doesn’t make for a very good conversation). Rather than trying to be funny, come up with something interesting or try to reflect the question back to your coworker instead to see if they have something interesting to say, you can reframe the question slightly into something more interesting in your life.
“How was your weekend?”
“This past weekend I didn’t do very much but last, last weekend, I was in the mountains to ski and hike – it was great”
“How was your weekend?”
“This past weekend, I chilled but next weekend I’m heading to Vegas to gamble everything I own on black”
In a way, it’s about taking one part of the question and then reframing it in a way so that you have a great conversation topic to talk about.
Provide ‘hooks’ in conversations
Ever have a conversation with a really close friend and find that the conversation just flows from one topic to another? I bet it probably had a lot of ‘hooks’. What are hooks you ask? They’re small things that are mounted on walls to allow you to hang things from. No seriously, they are certain topics that you insert strategically into your questions or statements that allow others to chime in with their own thoughts, opinions or stories. For example, see if you can identify the hooks in this statement:
“This past weekend, I went shopping for a new ipad with my girlfriend and ended up at West Edmonton Mall. The crowds were crazy and parking was a challenge but we ended up at the Apple store”
Possible hooks for your conversation partner: past weekend, new ipad, West Edmonton Mall, crazy crowds and parking, Apple store
What this means is that your partner can immediately ‘hook’ into a story of their own – maybe they have a story about when the first bought their ipad, or when they recently went to West Edmonton Mall, or when they were facing crazy crowds.
What this means though is that it is up to you to provide the hooks in your conversations for others to latch onto and then for you to find these hooks that others may throw you (whether intentionally or not).
Specific, broad, related framework
As you are conversing with others, you can think about the different ways that you can ask questions and you can use a SBR framework to do this.
Specific (asking for specific details):
I went skiing this past weekend
How was the snow?
Broad (getting context):
I went skiing
Wait, when did you go?
Related (something related):
I went skiing
Oh I love snowboarding – do you know how to snowboard?
Increase your energy when you tell stories
Do you have friends that tell amazing stories? They seem to get animated, have different facial expressions, hand gestures and it makes the story come alive. You can use that same method to make your stories come alive – maybe stories that aren’t really that exciting in your mind but you tell it in such a way that makes it seem really great to others – because of your energy.
Also, remember what stories include: a situation, a problem, a resolution. I’ve told boring stories before – stories that had no point, stories that rambled on for too long, stories that didn’t have those elements and when you tell stories that way, people zone out, nod if they are polite but otherwise really do not want to continue to have conversations with you.
This sounds really weird but sometimes I like to prepare beforehand (not really a tip from Patrick but I wanted to share anyway). If I expect to be at a social setting, I’ll think of different questions I could ask and different stories I could tell – most of the time the questions and stories are topical and relevant to the event but other times, it could be specific things I wanted to ask people if I know that I will be talking to them. For example, I had dinner with a partner at the firm and I made sure that I thought of some generic questions about consulting that I could ask – this was only in case there was a lull in the conversation or if I couldn’t think of anything else to talk about based on where the conversation was going. Sometimes, it’s easier to think of specific topics to talk about with specific people in mind.
What are some of the ways that you have better conversations? How do you tell better stories? Let me know in the comments.