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March 16, 2008 1:05 PM   Subscribe

What books, training, or simple advice can you give me in becoming a more interesting conversationalist at work and especially in meeting new people?

I have recently taken a job as a Customer Sales Rep for an insurance company (a major one) and I have found myself lacking in the conversational arts. I have always been shy and kind of geeky and I dont seem to connect well with people unlike myself. And I really hate that. I've noticed when I am in conversation with someone, the other person seems to look for someone else to talk to and immediately takes the chance to say hello and conversate with others while completely ignoring me. It doesn't happen all the time, but enough of the time. This question is bordering on "How do I be cool?" but that's not what I mean. I just want to be more interesting and I guess more energetic. I want people to want to speak with me. I want them to ask me to have lunch. I have been listening to Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People and its been helpful but its also geared more towards a business relationship. I've also heard of Toastmasters but again its seems to be geared more towards business. I am really trying not to get involved with gossip, which I do not consider to be a true form of communication. Its just mean. If any of you have any experience with improving your social status through speaking, I am all ears.
posted by Brandon1600 to Human Relations (20 answers total) 84 users marked this as a favorite
 
Don't talk. Listen. Ask questions. Nobody wants to hear you blather. They want to hear themselves blather.
posted by unSane at 1:21 PM on March 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


Always keep in mind: good conversation is less about talking and more about listening and asking questions.
posted by scody at 1:23 PM on March 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


A conversation is a 2-way dynamic. I've found, the best way to keep a conversation going is by asking questions.

Bad example:
Person 1) "Because of the snow, I spent the whole weekend inside, catching up on LOST episodes, ..they are so good."
Person 2) "Wow. Thats really neat."

Thats a "conversation-ender" right there. Nothing left to say. You havent expressed any interest in what they said, or continuing the topic.

Good example:
Person 1) "Because of the snow, I spent the whole weekend inside, catching up on LOST episodes,... they are so good."

Person 2 now has 2 options:
--make a comment or better yet, ask a question related to snow
--make a comment or better yet, ask a quesiton related to LOST

Person 2) "I've never watched LOST, but I hear its great, what do you like about it ?"
Person 2) "Yeah, the snow was awesome, did you stay in all weekend, or go out and play in it any ?"


By asking questions, you are showing that you are genuinely interested in the topic/conversation. The great thing about this, even if you are completely ignorant about socially-popular topics (local music, movies, popular tv,etc).... you have an easy way to learn more. People LOVE to talk about themselves, or the things that interest them. Doesn't matter if you know nothing - all you have to do is ask/probe for more information.

Over time, (after asking enough questions to enough people)..you should start picking up on patterns (everyone here watches LOST, or everyone here seems to like the band Mogwai,etc) and you'll become more knowledgeable in those areas, which should make you more confident about holding conversation. ( OR---asking questions will be a good starting point to give you topics to research. Hey, look, everyone here likes Indian food, I'll go find some great blogs about Indian food,etc)
posted by jmnugent at 1:32 PM on March 16, 2008 [7 favorites]


Read a lot more Metafilter for:

1) current events
2) general knowledge.

Look up anything that you're unfamiliar with, say, on Wikipedia. Knowing just a little bit of a lot of different things will allow you to ask intelligent questions ala what unSane and scody mentioned.

When talking about yourself myself, I tend to be dismissive of "cool" things and self-depreciative and ham up my follies.
---
I have a very strange and often dirty sense of humour when I'm not conciously keeping it in check. I've had people say, "Now thats why I like having lunch with you." ymwv
posted by porpoise at 1:38 PM on March 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


This may sound cynical, but I ask people a lot of questions when I first meet them, and they really seem to like it. It helps that I am genuinely interested in their responses. I love how someone's face lights up when they start talking about something they really care about. You don't want to sound like you're interviewing, but just be genuinely interested. People love to talk about themselves, and it will make them more comfortable with you, and they'll start asking questions too. Pretty soon you're comfortable with each other and you're having lunch etc. Personally, I don't like it when people only want to give me their position on current events or Thomas Pynchon or whatever, if I don't know them well. It's just boring to me.
posted by sweetkid at 1:55 PM on March 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


Seconding sweetkid's comments, I've been told that I can be very charming when I want to be, because I seem to have a knack for quickly figuring out what someone's passion is and getting them to talk about it. Good way to do that is listen for any passing references in their statements, like mentioning plants whe ntalking about the weather might mean they are a gardener.
posted by Space Coyote at 2:06 PM on March 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


You can read How to Win Friends & Influence People in one sitting and it'll tell you everything you need to know. That this book was written in the 1930s is irrelevant; it is timeless.
posted by neuron at 2:21 PM on March 16, 2008


"If any of you have any experience with improving your social status through speaking, I am all ears."

Not to snark, and it's off the main part of your question, but one way your social status is judged is by your grammar and usage.

For example, from your question, "conversate" is slang; the correct word is "converse". Also, you repeatedly use "its" rather than the correct "it's" as a contraction of "it is'. Use of "conversate" and misuse of 'its" will imply you are uneducated or lower class to some listeners and readers.
posted by orthogonality at 2:50 PM on March 16, 2008


Click on your tag "conversation" and you'll find a bunch of past questions along these lines with excellent advice and tips.

Ask questions; be interested in the other person.
Ask questions that are open-ended rather than yes/no.
Laugh at their jokes - not theatrically or over-the-top, but smile/laugh/etc enough to show that you enjoy their conversation.
Remember innocuous things to ask about later. If Joe mentions that he's running a 5 k this weekend, ask him on Monday "oh, hey, how'd the race go?"

What's your conversational style now? How does a typical conversation start; and at what point do your conversational companions start looking to talk to someone else?
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:14 PM on March 16, 2008


Don't talk. Listen. Ask questions. Nobody wants to hear you blather. They want to hear themselves blather.

It depends on the person. Some people really ARE interesting, and I enjoy hearing them talk about themselves, and not only because they ask questions and listen. Most of my good friends are interesting, and I can listen to them talk for long periods of time.

Also, I am suspicious of people who ask me a lot questions, but don't want to share a lot about themselves.

Re: becoming a more interesting conversationalist:
-Talk about the wild, crazy and unsual things that you have done, or has happend to you. Tell people about the time you had to pay large sums of money to have the windows of your car fixed because two drag queens got into a fight and busted them out. This really happened to one of my friends, and people enjoy hearing that story. Tell people about the time you hooked up with some chick that had a huge knife scar on her upper thigh (this too was a true story).
-If you haven't done any wild/crazy/unusual things, or had it happen to you, go out and have those experiences! Get out of your comfort zone. Take up some new hobbies (something risk-taking, not anything like quilting), make new friends who YOU find interesting (they will help with you shyness), go to lively places.
-Think of your audience. Someone more conservative may not find the examples I listed above as interesting. Test the waters.
-Make funny/intelligent comments about your immediate environment or past events.
-If you have trouble with the above, the easist thing to do is to look for mutual interests, and talk about them. This is cool because, as other pointed we all like to talk about ourselves, and talking about shared interests is a good way to build rapport.

Worth mentioning..."interesting" and "cool" is subjective. The more you put yourself out there, be prepared for people to either love you or hate you, no one is going to view you as neutral anymore. Hopefully more people will like you than hate you, but hey, the risk is usually worth taking.

Good luck!
posted by sixcolors at 4:06 PM on March 16, 2008


I'm not suggesting an interview, I'm suggesting asking questions and then politely knocking the tennis ball back over the net for the other person to hit.

"So where are you from?"

"Oh, Indiana"

"Really? I've never been there. What's it like?"

or (better, because it shares a piece of information)

"Really? My grandfather was born in Indianapolis."

or even (if you are from California, where you are expected to share an intimate detail as early as possible)

"Really? I lost my virginity in Indianapolis".
posted by unSane at 4:26 PM on March 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


OK, like people are saying - ask questions. But what questions?

I found that if you remember F.O.R.D. it helps a TON. F = family O = occupation R = recreation D = dreams

Is your family from around here?
What did you do before (blank) - i like to get folks back to their first job because you can find familiar jobs to what you had
What do you do for fun?
Would you do that full time if you could?

not rapid fire but keep ford in mind and it will keep the conversion flowing
posted by jseven at 5:01 PM on March 16, 2008 [56 favorites]


It's easy to go over the top with the question thing, though. I meet people like that and I feel a bit flattered but also on-the-spot and uncomfortable. One way to break up that style of conversation is to tell interesting stories: NOT "I was studying oceanography on the Pacific Rim when Maria, my sexy Italian girlfriend, invited me to this casino in Macao..." (which is a kind of bragging about life-experience and is a huge turnoff) but something more down-to-earth and self-deprecating, probably about a friend or relative rather than yourself. Try to include verbal "hooks" so people can get a sense of your interests (mention a band, maybe, or a book, or a favorite leisure activity).
posted by nasreddin at 5:12 PM on March 16, 2008


I worked in a call center for a period of time and I found the following things helpful:

1) Try to learn at least one thing about almost every person you can. When you see them in the hallway or breakroom you can say "How are your kids?" or "How's the new house" or whatever. Finding one thing that is important to them is always good.

2) There are just some cultural things that a majority of people are into. For example, maybe in your call center most people watch American Idol or Desperate Housewives or whatever. In my office recently, the Spitzer thing was a big topic of conversation. Even if you don't watch those shows or aren't interested in politics, be updated about what is going on. Then it makes it easier to take part in the conversation.
posted by hazyspring at 5:23 PM on March 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


One thing I do, like unSane suggested, is talk to people about where they're from. If they're from Montana, I'll say "Where in Montana?" and they'll say "Oh, do you know Montana?" And then I admit that in truth I don't, but always ask that question anyway. I think it seems endearing to people that I always ask that. Anyway, I know it sounds cynical, but it's the mix of questions and mild self deprecation that works for me. I think wild stories aren't the way to go, especially because then you'll feel pressure if you don't have them.

I went from a *very* shy kid to a *very* outgoing, friend making adult. I did this slowly. I would go into social situations and tell myself this mantra--30%. What that meant was, be 30% more outgoing than I felt like being. If I felt like standing in a corner talking to no one, I would sort of whisper to myself, "30%", and then go talk to a few people for a few minutes. As time went on, 30% became more than just talking to a few people, it meant walking into a room and being very comfortable talking to people. I just kept building on that 30%.


For years I felt like I wasn't interesting enough, didn't have enough crazy stories, that no one ever talked to me etc. But then I did questions and the "30% mantra" and now it feels so natural. A lot of friends even comment on how I seem to meet people and make friends everywhere, so easily. Like everything, it takes work and practice. Sorry for the long post but I really believe this and feel strongly about it. I don't think people are born with charisma or anything, it's all work and practice.
posted by sweetkid at 5:43 PM on March 16, 2008 [113 favorites]


Nobody wants to hear you blather. They want to hear themselves blather.

Bore, n.: A person who talks when you wish him to listen.

(Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary)

But yeh, a good conversation is like a game or a dance - there's a to & fro, interplay, exchange. Any one person dominating or always playing the same role (eg constantly asking questions) gets a bit dull.

In terms of specific techniques, people here have suggested a "yes-and" approach, based on improv acting: somebody says something, you pick up on that, and add something to it, then the ball's back in their court, and ideally they do the same. The "and" might be a personal anecdote, or maybe a question, whatever gives a new foothold for the other person to use.

eg: "been up to anything fun lately?"

"yeh - i went skiing the other weekend!"

"awesome! i love skiing! where did you go?"

"whistler. it's my favourite. have you ever skied there?"

"no, i haven't. i normally ski on mount fuji. was the snow any good?"

"actually, there was a raging blizzard the whole time. but that was ok - i spent all my time drinking schnapps by the fireside instead"

"schnapps! woah, that stuff gives me the meanest hangovers. do you get that, too?"

(etc etc)
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:13 PM on March 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


you repeatedly use "its" rather than the correct "it's" as a contraction of "it is'. ... misuse of 'its" will imply you are uneducated or lower class to some listeners and readers.

Not to the listeners!
posted by jejune at 7:32 PM on March 16, 2008 [3 favorites]


The Art of Civilized Conversation: A Guide to Expressing Yourself With Style and Grace is the book that really opened my eyes on how to be a gracious conversationalist. I've read How to Win Friends and Influence people and a bunch of other books, which are good starting points, but The Art of Civilized Conversation gives incredibly useful examples of conversation and situations which are incredibly useful.

There are also many Ask.Mefi threads on manners and interpersonal conversation which provide valuable insight onto what people respond to in others.
posted by zippity at 7:44 PM on March 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


Be warned about talking about all the wild and crazy things you've done. I know someone who does that. Every conversation is about the wild and crazy things he does, and the way he's awesome, and the amazing things he's doing with his life, and the ladies he's had sex with, and I honestly don't recall the last time he asked anyone a question during a conversation. It is incredibly tiresome and I pretty much hate talking with him for any extended period of time. Do talk about yourself--but in the context of asking other people questions, or to answer their questions.
posted by schroedinger at 8:29 PM on March 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


How to Talk to Anyone and other books by Leil Lownes.

Keep up on the national and local news. For example, I've found that the Democratic presidential nomination and the local real estate market are two topics that almost everyone I meet has an opinion on and can discuss.
posted by Jacqueline at 2:46 AM on March 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


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