The Making of a Good Conversation
If you’re headed out this weekend, you may have the chance to make some new connections. Whether it’s a potential new client, a new network contact, a new friend, or your next date, how you conduct that first conversation is important. How you present yourself will make all the difference.
Entrepreneur contributors Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman offer several tips to help spark an instant connection in that first conversation. For some of you, a lot of these things might come naturally. But it’s always good to review — and to take a more critical look at how you’ve been doing thus far.
The most important thing you can do for yourself when you’re meeting someone new is to just relax:
Stress generates irritability, which leads to anger, and anger shuts down communication. Studies have shown that a one-minute relaxation exercise will increase activity in the brain that is essential for communication and decision making.”
If you enter a conversation already feeling pressure, you might not present your best self. Even if you aren’t angry or irritated, it might seem like you are to the other person. Newberg and Waldman suggest doing some breathing exercises beforehand to calm your mind and your body.
Once you’ve entered into the conversation, stay in the present. I know that I had trouble with this early in my career, when I was learning to do interviews as a reporter. I was often so nervous planning what my next question would be that I wasn’t focused on what the person was saying in that moment. What they were saying could have helped lead me to that important follow-up question or comment — so make sure you are giving a person your full attention. Also, staying in the present will help you read the other person:
If we bring this ‘presentness’ into a conversation, we hear the subtle tones of voice that give emotional meaning to the speaker’s words. Being in the present moment will allow you to quickly recognize when a conversation begins to go astray.”
Along this same line, Newberg and Waldman recommend watching for nonverbal cues. Be sure to watch how a person reacts, but don’t stare. How are they standing? Are their eyes on you?
It’s important to also pay attention to how you are coming across. You should speak slowly and clearly:
A slow voice has a calming effect on a person who is feeling anxious, whereas a loud, fast voice stimulates excitement, anger, or fear.”
Just as you limit your posts for Twitter and Facebook, you should also limit your spoken words to just the bare essentials. Being brief can help you hold someone’s attention:
Limit your speaking to 30 seconds or less. Our conscious minds retain only a tiny bit of information. If you need to communicate something essential, share it in even smaller segments — a sentence or two — then wait for the person to acknowledge they’ve understood. If the person remains silent, say another sentence or two, and then pause again.”
We’ve all met that person at the party or in the office who can’t seem to control how much they say at once. You have to allow people time to respond back to you. And if there is a lull in the conversation, let it happen — people usually need a few seconds to gather their thoughts. Resist that urge to fill every silence immediately.
As you head out this weekend, remember that a good conversationalist is a good listener. Everyone likes to feel valued, so make sure that you show the people you meet that you care about what they have to say. And it doesn’t hurt to show the same respect to the family and friends you see everyday.
If you need to brush up on a few more skills, check out the rest of Newberg and Waldman’s tips here.