My son just started at a new high school. As he knows no one, his motivational-speaker mom provided this brilliant advice: “I bet there are a lot of new kids. Just say hello and introduce yourself. Ask them about themselves and before you know it, you’ve started a conversation and maybe made a new friend.” Easy breezy. He’s a great kid. He’s got this!
Then day #2… my son comes home with this, “Why can’t kids just talk to each other? No one asks questions. Everybody just looks at their phones. No one asked me a thing. They just want to talk about themselves.” Ugh.
My pitiful response is that adults are not much better. With technology taking over, face-to-face communication has taken a back seat and people are getting rusty. Let’s bring the art of conversation back.
So what kills conversations? What makes conversations killer (that means good)? Check out these common ways convos can either get hijacked or fly high….
The Conversation Karate Chop
These people start or end a sentence with, “No offense,” which is really code for, this is offensive, but I am going to say it anyway. The phrase means nothing except prepare to be offended. Don’t just cut “no offense” from your vocab, but also x-out what you were going to say before or after that. Stop using a phrase that tries to make insults socially acceptable. They’re not. Saying, “No offense” doesn’t excuse what you said. I’m just sayin’ (see what I did there?).
Do you know someone who posts to YELP every time they get bad service? We all have opinions, but could we be honest in the kindest way possible? Or better yet, do you need to give your view on everything? If you wonder whether you should post a negative comment, don’t. Do you have something more useful to do than try to change the opinion of someone else? Are you trying to make yourself look smarter or better than others? Maybe someone needs more support and less criticism. What can you do to be more of a helper — and less of a yelper?
The Verbal Tee-Up
This is the phrase you say before you criticize. “Don’t get mad but…”, “Let me be honest with you…”, “I hate to be the one to tell you this…”, and the infamous, “with all due respect.” Really?!? This should not be par for the course.
Before you say (or write) something, ask: Is it kind? Does it need to be said right now? Does it need to be said by me? Does it need to be said at all? Yes, you can think it, but filter, people, FILTER! “That dress is a little too clingy.” “That tattoo is unfortunate.” Just because you think it, doesn’t mean you have to say it.
This is when you think you can multitask, but you really can’t. Have you ever grabbed your phone to check a quick text? Ever sneak a peek over someone’s shoulder to see who else is around? Come on! Do you think the other person doesn’t notice? Sometimes you can even see in a person’s eyes that they are only half listening to you, and instead of thinking of what they want to say next.
Turn your phone face down. Consider turning it off (GIANT GASP)! Look someone in the eye. Be in the moment. Engage fully with another human being. Listening is not a performance. Just listen.
These are people who always turn the conversation back to themselves. No matter what you say, this conversation narcissist will find a way to steal the conversation spotlight. “Oh, you said you are hungry? I had dinner at the best place last night.” These people may feel as though they are bonding, but they are doing the opposite. “You think that is embarrassing, you should hear my story.” Even though I can beat anyone with an embarrassing story, I work hard to zip it.
It is a conversation, not a competition. The best exchanges go back and forth. Make sure you share the spotlight. Try being more interested than interesting. Ask questions, listen to the answers, and if you feel like you are dominating the convo, say, “Enough about me — what about you?!?”
I challenge you to join the conversation — in the right way — and work on being a convo master, not a disaster. Improve relationships, build rapport, and leave people feeling better for being in your company. If you don’t agree with me, well, “Bless Your Heart.”