Seven tips for making conversation (with strangers)

talking.studentsI read this blog entry at The Happiness Project the other day and thought “what the hell was that?” Most of them, I thought, were fairly straightforward. I couldn’t argue with them. Comment on general topics, shared  interests, ask open questions, react in kind.

But a couple of things she mentioned were so ludicrous, seriously!

  • 4. If you do ask a question that can be answered in a single word, instead of just supplying your own information in response, ask a follow-up question.

Fair call. Up till this point:

  • For example, if you ask, “Where are you from?” an interesting follow-up question might be, “What would your life be like if you still lived there?” If you ask, “Do you have children?” you might ask, “How are you a different kind of parent from your own parents?” or “Have you decided to do anything very differently from the way you were raised?”

Oh really? Let’s see, if someone asked me how I parented differently from my parents, thirty seconds after meeting me, I’d have to try very hard not to turn and simply walk away from them, or barring that, try to resist shouting “WTF?” in their face. That’s super weird, super intrusive and super personal. Not an appropriate third “getting to know you” question, in my opinion. I would not take kindly to someone who did that and probably wouldn’t speak to them ever again if I could help it, and yes, I WOULD tell all my friends about that creepy person I met who asked about my parenting style or upbringing immediately after asking my name.

  • 7. A friend argues that you should admit it! “We’re really working hard, aren’t we?” or “It’s frustrating—I’m sure we have interests in common, but we’re having a difficult time finding them.” Clearly this is a desperate measure, but my friend insists that it works. I’ve never had the gumption to try it, I have to admit.

Well, good on her. Even I, the queen of social awkwardness, wouldn’t bring up just what an awkward time I’m having with someone. There are some times it’s best to be straight up, but this really isn’t one of them. What do you expect to happen after putting it out there between you? “Wow, we really have nothing to say to each other!” “Yeah…so….lovely weather isn’t it?”.

I find that how well I make conversation really depends on my mood. Sometimes I just don’t feel like talking and will go out of my way to avoid crossing paths with people, even ones I know. Other times I just can’t be bothered making the effort, especially if after efforts to engage in dialogue, the other person doesn’t respond in kind. But if I’m feeling good about myself and what I’m wearing and how I look (shallow, yes) it makes a world of difference and I could almost pass for an extrovert-in-training. Not so much with people older than myself, or REALLY IMPORTANT PEOPLE – they make me nervous –  but definitely with people around my age.

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