Make interesting conversations and making them flow
May 25, 2012 6:07 AM   Subscribe

i need help to make interesting conversations and making them flow

Hi guys. I'm going straight to the point. I'm in college right now and I suck at conversations. I really do. I am reserved and it is starting to kill me. The other day, my friend came over to my house for like a week because he didnt had a place to stay and its been the two of us for the whole week. However, there were so many awkward silences and it is unbearable. I feel that i have a reputation of being boring and non expressive. Although I am nice, I guess my inability to make interesting conversations and making them flow is what's killing me. Because of that, I can't get a girlfriend, I can't make more friends and also I think Im getting more depressed each day.
posted by soul24rage to Human Relations (20 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I feel that i have a reputation of being boring and non expressive.

Because of that, I can't get a girlfriend, I can't make more friends and also I think Im getting more depressed each day.

I tend to view this line of thinking as a product of depression and/or anxiety - it's certainly familiar enough to me and many other MetaFilter members. I suggest that the far more likely product of your reserve is that people view you as ... reserved.

That said, it sounds like you're not happy with the situation. I think the best way to get a conversation going is to ask your counterparts questions that will get them to talk about something that deeply interests them.

What does your friend do when he's not sitting on your couch? Does he have an interesting job? A hobby? A band? Ask him about one of those and his responses will likely generate enough to talk about that you can ask another question (and so on).
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 6:12 AM on May 25, 2012

I feel has a lot of practical, sound advice. Look for the section on struggling to make conversation.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 6:15 AM on May 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

my inability to make interesting conversations

I have come to a recent epiphany: conversations do not need to be interesting.

I thought I always had to be delightfully witty, funny and insightful when I spoke, and if I didn't feel like I was then it was always just safer to say nothing and sit awkwardly in the corner.

But then realised that I don't mind listening to other people talk about otherwise mundane things: the weather, their work, what happened during their day etc. I figured that if I didn't mind hearing it, then most other people probably wouldn't mind hearing it either.

Don't get me wrong. I am not saying all chat should be dull, but if you are constantly looking for the perfect conversation, then you will be waiting a long time. Good conversation always starts somewhere boring, don't let banality turn you off.

Good luck.
posted by TheOtherGuy at 6:24 AM on May 25, 2012 [8 favorites]

I think you have the issue wrong. The issue is confidence in yourself, not conversation or awkward silences.

Also, it takes TWO to have a conversation. What's up with your friend? Nothing to say?
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:29 AM on May 25, 2012

Have a follow-up question to everything. Actively listen to what the person is saying, and then ask something about what they just said. It doesn't have to be specific -- "And then what happened?" will often suffice, if nothing else works.

Being a good conversationalist is 80 percent listening and 20 percent giving the other person a topic to talk about. Yeah, that math is right -- it's all about the other person talking.
posted by Etrigan at 6:31 AM on May 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Try listening to NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. It wasn't my intention, but just by listening to this genius woman conduct interviews I've found that I can more easily have a conversation with just about anyone, and actually be interested in any subject. I think the best conversations start with great questions and there's really no one better than Terry, IMHO.
posted by seriousmoonlight at 6:33 AM on May 25, 2012 [4 favorites]

Are you sure the silences are always awkward? Because I think sometimes people who are anxious about their conversational skills interpret silences in a conversation as being MUCH more awkward than they actually are. And agreed - your friend also bears responsiblity for those awkward silences. Look, I am a pretty reserved person. Put me in a room with another reserved person and there will be some long silent spells. When I go out to lunch with my sister, we can go for a couple of minutes without talking, just the two of us at a table! But usually they're not awkward silences, just... silences.

If you can learn to be OK with the silences it will take a lot of the pressure off.

Also I think if you are very anxious about your conversational style you worry too much about what *you* are going to say, which means you don't pay attention to what your conversational partner is saying, which makes it harder to have anything to say.

So: active listening (including listening to the silence!)

I like the seriousmoonlight's suggestion to listen to Terry Gross. Another interviewer I like (in a different style) is Julie Klausner. On her podcast, How Was Your Week, she interviews one or two people a week, and it's just people talking about stuff they're interested in. Actually, podcasts in general can be a great place to hear people modeling good conversational skills - Marc Maron's WTF and Extra Hot Great are two that I listen to sometimes where I just want to jump into the conversation myself.
posted by mskyle at 6:45 AM on May 25, 2012 [5 favorites]

I'd even go further than saying that some silences might not be awkward. Silences can be a fresh breath of air and a welcome time of peace and quiet. If your friend stays over for a whole week, they might appreciate some room for their thoughts and not have constant interaction and conversation. It can be exhausting to talk all the time and the pressure of keeping up a conversation is not relaxing for everyone either.
posted by meijusa at 6:53 AM on May 25, 2012

How To Win Friends and Influence People.

It's the only book on conversation that you will ever need.
posted by COD at 7:06 AM on May 25, 2012

Something that might help you is The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People - specifically the chapter on listening. People are constantly dropping cues suggesting how you might (or might not) respond to things they say. I feel like it's taken my ability to converse to another level.
posted by koucha at 7:17 AM on May 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you live with someone, short or long term, I doubt it would be pleasant to talk all the time. Silence is normal and can be pretty awesome.

What are the things that interest you? What do you think about? That is the stuff you would enjoy talking about, that is the stuff you have some knowledge on or questions about.
Find someone (I have seen your other questions) who is interested in the same stuff as you and you get a great conversation.

Another thing: read a lot, listen to news, check out what is going on in the world: it gives you plenty to talk about.

And then just start! (No fear, no pressure, no judgment)
Just say: Hey, did you hear the news about the airplane door that landed on a golf course? Here you have a lot of things to talk about: crazy stuff that happens, flight safety, golf, golf courses being get the idea.

If you feel like you have to interact with someone who is staying at your place, watch a movie/show/news together. It gives the both of you some input what to talk about and helps a conversation going. Generally doing things together with other people can help you out if you feel like you are boring/non expressive - if you join a club (study group/computer/chess/biking/photography/whatever) there is already a subject to be talked about. And it allows you to practice with a lot of different people.

Also, don't be too hard on yourself. You are in college, it's quite normal to devote one's time to the textbooks and not to super-fascinating-interesting-topics all the time. Most times it is just us who obsess about our own BIG FLAW and other people don't even notice it that much.
posted by travelwithcats at 7:26 AM on May 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Great advice above. I would add that knowing how (and when) to exit a conversation is also a good skill. If it seems like the conversation has wound down, no need to sit there looking at each other expectantly. Make a graceful exit - "cool, I'm going to do some studying now, I'll catch up with you at dinner," or whatever.
posted by messica at 7:40 AM on May 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nth-ing pretend you're interviewing the other person. Everybody is an expert on themselves! I'm a naturally shy person and the only thing that has gotten me through some dates is my ability to interview someone until they want to take me home.
posted by modernserf at 7:56 AM on May 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

A newish friend of mine has taught me that some silence is not necessarily bad or awkward. We hung out one day, walking around a park and watching/feeding some geese, and there were good portions of the time where no one was talking. Later, I mentioned something about awkwardness. "What awkwardness? I had a great time!" was my friend's response. Learning to sit with silence and not worry about it in my head has been a good experience for me.
posted by needs more cowbell at 9:53 AM on May 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm not necessarily recommending this as a long term strategy, and it definitely won't help you get a girlfriend, but when I was a 20-year-old guy in college my friends and I used to paper over the holes in our conversations with movie quotes. As far as I can tell, this is basically what The Big Lebowski is for.
posted by Ragged Richard at 9:56 AM on May 25, 2012

I'm just like you, I think. Personally, I think conversations SHOULD be interesting on some level, otherwise it's just annoying prattle. ....but then there are those awkward silences. Fed up with that, I decided to take some improv's are some things I've learned that can help in everyday conversations....

1. "Yes, and" - Now, this doesn't mean you have to actually agree with your (conversation partner), but that you need to acknowledge what they've said, and add to it in some related fashion. For example, instead of:

Them: "Man, sorry I'm late - the traffic on the Parkway was awful."
You: "That's okay."


You: "Oh, I know! They added those toll booths and now it's crazy!" or your own anecdotes about being late.

Think of a conversation, like, tennis, or something. You receive the ball, then pass it back.

2. "Don't ask questions" This is an important rule in improv (although loose). People do like to talk about themselves, but they don't want to feel like they're being grilled. Likewise if you've been friends with someone a long time, there's not going to be that much to question. "Where did you go to school?" has probably been answered a long time ago. Only ask questions if they're seemless - if your friend says he's just come from his mom's say, "oh yeah - your mom had pneumonia last month - how is she doing?"

So I guess, I'm not saying NEVER ask questions but constantly asking questions turns it from a conversation into an interview, which can be just as awkward as silence.

3. "Object work" Do stuff! If you're just sitting across the table staring at one another in silence well, unless you're in a staring contest (hurr hurr) it's gonna be awkward. However, if you're doing something (typing, playing cards, watching TV), not only will the other person be aware that your thoughts may be elsewhere, but the action may also give you a conversation starter - "arg - I'm stuck on this line of dialogue I'm writing....what do you think?"

4. It takes two - as others have said, your friend has a responsibility to keep the conversation running as well. Unless they're always "yes anding" and you're ALWAYS blocking (not yes anding) then don't worry about it - maybe they don't find the silence uncomfortable. Some people are introverted - it could be both you and your friend are. And when two people spend large amounts of time with each other, there will always be long pauses.
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 10:55 AM on May 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Are there any clubs or other group activities at your school that interest you? Especially ones where people get together at a bar for a few drinks and conversation. A little alcohol can go a long way to reduce inhibitions and lubricate the conversation.

By more people you have a better chance of finding someone you flow with. When I was in college, I met a few people who were gateways between different peer groups and communities. By getting to know them, I was introduced to friends I never would have met otherwise.

If conversation isn't going well with your visitor, are there other activities you both enjoy? Maybe something athletic. The activity could provide a source of conversation later on.

As others have mentioned, read and listen to people who inspire and interest you. Work on an affable sense of humor. Even if it means memorizing a few really good jokes.
posted by Golden Eternity at 11:34 AM on May 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd like to second Dale Carnegie's book, as well as How to Talk to Anybody. If you have a bit of social anxiety, I really recommend When Panic Attacks, by David Burns.

One thing that I've read is that sometimes 'nice' people spend too much time worrying about what the other person is thinking/going to think about them, and so they spend a lot of time filtering, and they have a hard time talking to people. People are incredibly forgiving of people saying stupid things, though. I mean there's a fine line when you're filtering the things you're thinking -- too much and you're quiet/reserved/can't start conversations, too much and, well, you're tactless. Though I think people are forgiving of the kind of person who is just a little too honest. I think this works best if you're a good person.

The other thing I would suggest is to go out and do stuff. You know how back in the 80's, stand-up comics did a lot of jokes about hotels and air travel? Do you know why? It's not because hotels and air travel are inherently hilarious. It's because they spent a lot of time traveling in airplanes and staying in hotels. Similarly, if you're sitting around watching TV or hanging out on the internet all day, a lot of your conversational material is going to be boring. If you go out and do interesting things, well, you'll have interesting stories to tell.

A lot of these conversational things are skills and will improve with practice.


Improv comedy might help, sometimes they have courses.
posted by Comrade_robot at 1:13 PM on May 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

You might have a touch of the social anxiety. Have you talked to someone in campus counseling? It could help you break through your shell and make the connections you're seeking.

My other suggestion would be to try increasing your conversational output - not rambling, just having some boring conversations. Boring conversations are great. They can be short or long. They can be about the weather, or the popularity of Oprah, or shoes you like, or cat videos. Boring conversations, over time, build trust and help people be relaxed and open enough to have the really interesting conversations.

Be cautious of using criticism and angriness to hide vulnerability and make yourself seem smart. I, um, already tested that. Doesn't work so well. People want to connect with genuine and nice, not mean and ranty.

When I was your age, I was super awkward and shy and just didn't talk to most people. And man, my love life sucked ass. But things got better for me, and they will for you too. Good luck!
posted by bunderful at 4:33 PM on May 25, 2012

i once learned a mnemonic device from a protestant preacher, i don't know where he got it from, and i don't know how effective it will be if i share it in this format, but here it goes:

there is a house with a white picket fence. inside the house there are kids, and they are throwing water balloons at the people who pass by. on the chimney there is a giant rubber glove. the giant rubber glove is holding an airplane. in the airplane, all the people are wearing skiis(sp?). the skiis have blinking red lights on the tips.

this picture tells you how to have a conversation with anyone. you start with the first thing and when that topic is exhausted you move to the next. of course, if one topic really jumps out, go to that. with each topic, once you know some details, you can ask more context-dependent questions.

here's how the picture is decoded:

house: location. where did you grow up? where do you live? what is it like there?

kids throwing water balloons: family. how many people are in your family? what are they like?

glove on the chimney: work. where do you work? what do you do? what's it like?

plane: travel. where have you traveled? what countries have you been to? where would you suggest i go on vacation?

skiis: hobbies. what do you like to do for fun? do you play any sports? what is it about [your hobby] that makes it so interesting?

red blinking lights: any things else. for example, they're wearing a green bay packers t-shirt, so you might say "do you watch football? are you a big green bay packers fan? how did you become a fan?"

each part could be a multi-hour conversation. i think the key is to use the "yes, and" modality from improv: listen intently to what the other person is saying, and based on what they're saying affirm what they said and ad your own bit. in this case, pick a detail from their answer and ask another question about it. for example, based on the previous example, let's say they liked the packers most when Brett Farve(sp?) was the quarter back. then you ask "so what did you think about him playing for the vikings? did you see the game where they played green bay?"
posted by cupcake1337 at 6:05 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

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