The art of conversation is touted as such for a reason. Just the vision of yourself centering a room full of people on your engaging tale-telling session (and audibly appreciating your wit) is undeniably appealing but anyone’s who tried to actually live that scenario knows there’s serious skill in being able to saunter up to any old stranger and tackle a tête-à-tête.
But for many, even the thought of approaching a stranger for small talk is enough to put us off socialising in the first place. Even extroverts can be put off by the thought but, as social coach Russy Ross explains, it’s all a matter of mindset.
As a social coach, who teaches workshops on that very art we were so skilfully and easily discussing (!) through Work-Shop, Russy is an expert on conversational skills, body language techniques, social and dating strategies, and fundamentally, how to adjust your thinking when it comes to personal relationships all in the name of recapturing the knack of a good chat.
“When we wear a ‘label’ as an identity, for example; “I’m not great with people”, “I’m not a good conversationalist”, or “I’m quiet and reserved”; we naturally start to live up to those expectations and our behaviour and fear of rejection follow suit,” Russ tells Collective Hub. “We are what we allow ourselves to be.”
“The trick is to start small, adjust your expectations, ‘small chunk’ your learning and remember that you don’t have to be social superhero by the end of the night.”
And before you even get started, you’ll benefit from spotting the two initial barriers to any good social connection.
“The first [barrier] is mindset,” Russ explains. “[You need to be] proud of the person you are, and put that out to the world. It’s human nature to care what other people think, but it’s only when we care too much that it starts to affect how we act. Not owning ‘who you are’ out of a fear of judgment is one of the biggest things that hold my clients back. My job is to teach them how to confidently and effectively communicate who they are to other people.”
Then, it’s about thinking a little differently about what ‘networking’, ‘socialisation’, ‘rubbing shoulders’ and every type of interaction we naturally fear.
“Don’t just accept everything the way it is,” Russ stresses. “Challenge people, break the social norm, and change the rules of the game. If you can start to see the world differently through a new pair of glasses then you will rise through the social ranks faster than you expect. You will see more opportunities, and more to the point, you will take them.”
You can also work through these more practical steps, advises Russ:
Stop, take a deep breath and remember that you’re only a human being. Recognise that it’s ok to be a little nervous, anxious and worried, the important things is to learn to take action in these situations and not wear the labels we give ourselves.
Be present. Don’t try to mentally multi task. Give the person you are talking to your full attention and time. People like to feel like they are being heard, so put your phone away and just listen.
Avoid the monologues. The number one thing we love to talk about is ourselves, and why not right? After all, we are interesting! However, conversation is a two way street so avoid the ‘me, me syndrome’ and find out more about them.
Listen. It sounds simple, yet we don’t do this very well. How often have you found yourself planning your next sentence in your head while the other person is talking? If you spend your time being attentive, you will hear breadcrumbs in the conversation that they want you to ask about.
Ask why, not what. Asking ‘why’ is a great technique when it comes to talking to people, it can lead to a very good value-based conversation. Asking, “what type of law do you practice?” is fairly logical (and a tad bit boring), but asking “why did you chose to go to law school?” is an emotional trigger and will give them permission to tell you more about themselves and is a powerful way to connect.
Be playful. Some of us grew up too quickly and forgot all about our inner eight year-old who wants to just play. It’s rare that we have playful conversations anymore. They are fast becoming a logical exchange of information with us filtering out everything that we are embarrassed to talk about. Why not change up those questions of death, “where do you live?” or “what do you do for work?” to something a little more fun: “if you could have a superpower for a day what would it be?” or “if you could wake up anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would that be?” and then, of course, whatever the answer is ask, “why?”
Take a few risks. Bottom line is this, the secret to meeting new people is, well, you have to meet new people. People are far more open to talking to you than you may think, and once you have their attention, pause for a second, smile and go for it.