Do You Have The, “Gift of Gab?”
In case you didn’t know, I’m Italian—seriously, was my last name not a dead giveaway?
At the risk of sounding stereotypical, let me share with you that I have the “gift of gab” and I attribute that to being Italian. Yes, that also means that I talk with my hands, as in I can’t have a conversation with you if you don’t let me use my hands. I once demonstrated this to a class and they laughed for a good five minutes. It’s just part of who I am.
Being the “Chatty Cathy” that I am, I find nothing odd about striking up a random conversation with someone. In fact, about a month ago I found myself flying cross-country and I struck up a 5.5 hour conversation with a wonderful woman sitting next to me.
That was a first even for me—5.5 hours of great conversation with a perfect stranger, who does that? Well as you might have guessed, two Italian women!
With tomorrow being a very big Italian holiday and the holiday season upon us, I wanted to share my tips on starting a conversation with someone.
- Put DOWN your smartphone: As a professor who specializes in Interpersonal Communication (read: our ability to communication with another on a personal, unique, level) it is extremely distressing to me to watch how many people miss opportunities to start a new friendship or casual conversation because they are GLUED to their smartphone. Human communication is at the core of our existence! You can live without your electronic devices—the horror—and make meaningful connections with others around us in, REAL life!
- Smile: It is amazing to me how many people underestimate the power a simple smile. A smile is one of the most well-known “approachability cues” and signifies a willingness to communicate. I can’t tell you the number of times I look up and see people frowning! That’s not helping you out, unless of course you don’t want to talk to someone.
- Engage in socially acceptable self-disclosure: Self-disclosure, as I describe it to my students, involves how much you share about who you are. There are different levels of self-disclosure, and it is best described using Altman and Taylor’s (1987) Social Penetration Theory. Social Penetration Theory discusses the ways in which people decide to engage in self-disclosure. If you’re trying to start up a casual conversation with someone, at your office holiday party, a meeting, a dinner party, at the gym, etc., you want to make sure you aren’t over-sharing.
- Start small: There’s no reason to lead with your life story. Most people find that uncomfortable. Really, I don’t need to know about your emotional baggage until we’re at least having our third conversation. I suggest starting with your name, and something fun about you that is relevant to the situation. For instance on my flight, after smiling at the woman who was about to sit down next to me, I chose to share with her why I was flying to our shared destination. She responded with why she was flying there as well. Socially acceptable and reciprocal self-disclosure. Give a little information, get a little. If someone isn’t self-disclosing back you might want to re-evaluate whether or not they want to have a conversation with you.
- Be Engaged and Focused: If you are trying to have a conversation with someone, BE PRESENT! This means engaging in appropriate nonverbal cues, such as, eye contact, having open body posture (uncross those arms), and nodding. Take the time to actively listen and respond. If you’re constantly scanning the room or checking your smartphone, you aren’t engaged in the conversation and if you aren’t engaged in the initial conversation it’s going to be difficult to build an interpersonal relationship with someone.
This holiday season, and new year I encourage to find your own inner “Chatty Cathy” and strike up a conversation with someone. You never know who you will meet and how they might influence your life.
Share with me:
Are you a “Chatty Cathy?”
What’s your favorite thing to talk about?