For nearly twenty years, small-talk expert Don Gabor has helped thousands of people communicate with wit, confidence, and enthusiasm with his bestseller How to Start a Conversation and Make Friends. This new edition brings the art of having a conversation up to date.
By following the simple and dynamic guidelines in this easy-to-read book, you'll be ready to strike up a great conversation with anyone anywhere! And you'll learn how to keep the conversation going by asking the right questions, using body language effectively, and avoiding conversation pitfalls. Packed with charts, hundreds of opening lines, real-life examples, FAQs, helpful hints, and solid professional advice, How to Start a Conversation and Make Friends shows you how to:
Don Gabor is a communications trainer and author of seven self-help books and audiotapes. He helps organizations that want people with high-impact communication skills and individuals who want to have better conversations. He is a frequent media guest, a spokesperson for Sprint, and a member of the National Speakers Association. Don lives in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife, Eileen.
A Note from the Author
Introduction: Meeting New People and Making New Friends
Part I. Starting Your Conversations with Confidence
1 First Contact Body Language
2 Breaking the Ice and Getting the Conversation Going
3 Five Seconds to Success: The Art of Remembering Names
Part II. Continuing Your Conversations with Wit and Charm
4 Keeping the Conversation Going Strong
5 Getting Your Ideas Across
6 Overcoming Conversational Hang-ups
Part III. Ending Your Conversations with a Great Impression
7 Closing Conversations Tactfully
8 Making Friends
Part IV. Boosting Your Conversations to the Next Level
9 Recognizing and Using Conversation Styles
10 Talking to People from Other Countries
11 Customs That Influence Cross-Cultural Conversations
12 Five Golden Rules of Mobile Phone Etiquette
13 E-mail and On-line Chat Rooms: Making Conversation and Friends in Cyberspace
14 Improving Your Conversations
15 50 Ways to Improve Your Conversations
Chapter Two: Breaking the Ice and Getting the Conversation Going
1. Risk Versus Rejection
It takes a certain amount of risk to begin a conversation with a stranger. Most shy people don't start conversations because they fear being rejected. Of course, this prevents them from reaching out to others. Remember that risk taking and rejection are part of life, and to be overly sensitive is counterproductive. And, anyway, what's so bad about being rejected by someone you don't even know?
Change from Passive to Active
Most shy people take the passive role when it comes to starting conversations. They wait and wait and wait, hoping someone will come along and start a conversation with them. If there are two shy people together, they're both waiting, both taking the passive role. If someone else by chance does start talking, the shy person is often so surprised, she doesn't know what to say.
To get out of this "Catch-22," consciously change from the passive to the active role. Be the first to say hello and take the initiative to begin the conversation. Introduce yourself to people regularly and begin to share your ideas, feelings, opinions, and experiences. Look for familiar faces, and after saying hello, seek out other people's thoughts, views, interests, and knowledge. By initiating conversations, you'll get more positive responses, and your fear of rejection will lessen. In this way your risk taking can pay off in making new contacts and having more meaningful conversations.
Another advantage of being the first to say hello is that it gives you the opportunity to guide the direction of the conversation, and gives the other person the impression that youare confident, friendly, and open. You are also complimenting the other person by showing a desire to start a conversation with him.
Minimize Rejections -- Look for Receptivity
The more you practice starting conversations, the better responses you will get. But, of course, there are going to be some rejections too. No one receives unanimous approval, so when you do get rejected, don't dwell on it. Instead, use it as a lesson and adjust your approach for next time.
The best way to minimize rejection is to look for receptivity in those you approach. Try to be sensitive to "where others are at." Look for open arms, eye contact, and a smile. Look for people who are sending receptive signals through their body language, and when you feel the time is right, approach them in a friendly and direct way. For example, if you are at a party or dance, and would like to ask someone for a dance, then look to those who either are dancing or look like they want to dance. Wait for a new song to start playing, and then take the risk. Move closer to the person and establish eye contact, smile, and ask the person for a dance. Chances are she will feel flattered that you have noticed her and hopefully will accept your invitation. If, however, the answer is no, then accept it gracefully with a smile (like water off a duck's back), and ask someone else. Keep asking and you're bound to get an acceptance. The more you ask, the better you'll get at picking out people who will respond the way you want them to.
How to Accept Rejections
If you have been rejected many times in your life, then one more rejection isn't going to make much difference. If you're rejected, don't automatically assume it's your fault. The other person may have several reasons for not doing what you are asking him to do; none of it may have anything to do with you. Perhaps the person is busy or not feeling well or genuinely not interested in spending time with you. Rejections are a part of everyday life. Don't let them keep you from reaching out to others. When you begin to get encouraging responses, then you are on the right track. It's all a matter of numbers. Count the positive responses and forget about the rejections.
This simple philosophy can help people who fear rejection. If you have only taken a few social risks and have been rejected once or twice, then those rejections loom very large in your life. If, on the other hand, you take more risks, and start conversations, you will receive a mixture of open and closed responses, and each rejection will become less and less meaningful. Focus on the positive responses, and you will get better at choosing receptive people.
You really have very little to lose, and a lot to gain. Taking the risk to be the first to say hello isn't such a fearful step. When you take the active role, you are sending this message: "I'm friendly and willing to communicate if you are."
2. Ask Easy-to-Answer Ritual Questions
Ritual questions are easy-to-answer requests for information. Although basically requests for personal background or general information, they also convey this message: "I'm interested in getting to know you better."
Breaking the Ice -- A Compliment or Comment Followed by a Ritual Question
Ritual questions can be used to break the ice with someone you don't know and wish to speak to. The easiest way to start a conversation with a stranger is to employ one of the three following openings. First, notice something interesting about the person you wish to speak with and, in a friendly and sincere manner, offer a compliment. Quickly follow the compliment with a ritual question that is directly related to the compliment you just gave. The "opening line" might be: "That's a beautiful ring you're wearing! What kind of stone is it?" or "Say, you're a terrific skater! How did you learn to do all those tricks?"
A second way to break the ice is to notice something that the person is carrying -- maybe a book, musical instrument, or a piece of sporting equipment. After establishing eye contact and smiling, ask a ritual question based on the object. For example, if you see someone carrying a tennis racket, you could say something like: "Excuse me, but could you recommend a good place to take tennis lessons?" or "Do you know a good place to play without having to wait for a court?" or "I notice you have a racket like the one I'm interested in buying. How do you like it?" or "I see you're a tennis player. I want to start playing. Can you recommend a good racket for a beginner?"
If you see someone reading or carrying a book, you can ask how he likes it. If a person has a musical instrument, you can ask him what kind of music he plays, where he plays or studies, how long he has been playing, or how you might get involved. If you see someone taking photographs, you could ask him about the type of camera he has or if he is a professional or amateur photographer. These questions can be applied to almost any object a person is carrying. It is a safe and friendly way of showing someone you've noticed him, while breaking the ice and starting a conversation at the same time.
A third way to break the ice and start a conversation is to make a comment or ask a question based on the situation. This can be a request for information like: "Say, excuse me, but I'm looking for an apartment in the neighborhood. Do you happen to know of any places that might be for rent?" Another common question might be: "I'm looking for a good place to eat nearby. Can you recommend a restaurant in the neighborhood?" If you see someone who looks like she needs some assistance, then offering to help is an excellent way to start a conversation. You might say: "You look a little lost. Are you looking for someplace in particular? I live in the neighborhood -- maybe I can help you."
In addition to asking for or offering assistance, another way to start a conversation is to make comments based on what you observe. It is best to focus on the positive things you see rather than complaining about the negative. This way you can let others in on the way you see the world, and not get caught in a conversation of "Ain't it a shame!" If you happen to be standing in a movie line, you can comment on other films, or the most recent book you've read if you are browsing in a bookstore. A straight-forward comment you can make is: "I've seen you here before. Do you live or work around here?"
Ritual questions are good for breaking the ice and starting a conversation. By looking for what people are involved in, you can easily focus on a topic of interest to the other person. Remember, in addition to finding out about the other person, you are sending this signal: "You seem interesting to me, and I'd like to get to know you better!"
I dine at a local restaurant where I often see someone else who usually eats alone. How can I ask her if she wants to join me for dinner?
Make an effort to be seated near the person dining alone, and when she looks in your direction, make eye contact, nod, and smile. If she smiles back, you can say, "Hello. I've noticed that you eat here a lot, too. What's for dinner tonight?" Remember that you are just showing interest and seeing if she appears open for contact. If her response is friendly, you might say, "I really like their sandwiches here, but tonight I feel like something different. What do you usually order?" The goal is to start a conversation from your separate seats and see where it leads. If it seems like she wants to continue to talk you can say, "If you're not waiting for someone, would you like to join me?" or "Do you mind if I join you?"
Many people who frequently dine alone might be happy to accept your invitation if you approach them in a friendly and low-pressured way. You can also offer to buy a person a drink to show you are interested in chatting with her. Just remember that your offer is only a friendly gesture and doesn't necessarily mean that you are treating her to dinner or that she owes you anything in return. However, if she declines your invitation, she may be shy or she might simply prefer her own company. Don't get upset or angry. Just smile and say, "No problem, enjoy your meal."
The Perfect Time to Introduce Yourself
Exchanging ritual information also allows you to prepare to introduce yourself to the other person. Generally, the longer you wait to make an introduction, the more uncomfortable people get, so the sooner you take the initiative, the better. When there is a pause in conversation, this is a good time to say, "By the way, my name is...What's yours?" The other person will almost certainly respond in kind. Offer a handshake and a friendly smile, and say: "Nice to meet you." Then ask a question or make a comment about what the other person has told you, and your conversation will be off and running.
Closed and Open Ritual Questions
You might find yourself asking ritual question after ritual question, and only getting one- or two-word answers. This is probably because you are asking "closed-ended" ritual questions instead of "open-ended" ritual questions.
Closed-ended ritual questions usually require only a yes or a no, or just a one- or two-word answer. They are "fishing questions" because you're looking for a "bite." Closed-ended questions are useful for breaking the ice and finding out some basic facts, but they are more effective when followed with an open-ended question. Open-ended ritual questions usually require a more detailed answer, and they encourage the other person to talk. In addition, they provide an opportunity to reveal facts, opinions, feelings, and most important, plenty of free information. Closed-ended questions often begin with words like: Are? Do? Who? Where? and Which? Open-ended ritual questions commonly start with How? Why? In what way? How did you get involved? How can I get involved? "What" can be used as both an open- and closed-ended question.
Here are some common examples of closed-ended ritual questions.
Do you live around here?
Do you like the food?
What time is it?
Are you going to the park?
When did you get here?
Where are you from?
Are you enjoying your stay here?
Is this your first visit here?
Here are some examples of open-ended ritual questions.
How did you find your apartment?
In what ways do you think this country (city, college, etc.) has changed?
How did you get involved in that line of work?
Why did you decide to move there?
What brings you to our town?
What do you like to do on your days off?
These are just a few examples of closed- and open-ended ritual questions. Remember to follow closed questions with open-ended questions. In this way you can fish for topics of interest and then seek further information by asking open-ended questions.
Make your questions easy and straightforward. Most people are far more comfortable answering expected, easy-to-answer questions when they first meet a person, rather than difficult or complicated questions that put them on the spot.
Some people think that they may offend the other person if they ask ritual questions. They say they don't want to be too personal or pry. In most cases, the opposite is true. Most people feel flattered when someone notices them in a friendly way and shows a genuine interest. This usually encourages the person to talk.
It is also very important that you be willing to answer ritual questions. Answering a closed-ended question with more than just a one- or two-word answer shows that you are willing to talk. Your extended answer also offers the other person more information to ask you about or an opportunity for him or her to share a related experience. For example, let's say someone you've just met asks you a closed-ended question like, "Where are you from?" You can answer, "I grew up in..., but I've been living in...and working as a...for the last five years."
When we communicate with one another, we reveal much more than we realize. The information that we volunteer is called free information. When you ask or answer a ritual question, be aware of the free information that accompanies the answer. Focus on this, and use it as conversational fuel for follow-up questions. By focusing on the free information we can explore each other's experiences and interests in a natural and free-flowing manner.
Telling Others What You Do
Some people feel uncomfortable if others ask them the ritual question "What do you do?" They feel people will stereotype them or make assumptions based on how they earn a living. No one likes being put into a pigeonhole, but if you get angry or become resistant when asked about your profession, you'll throw cold water on the conversation. Although it may not be a good first question to ask when you meet someone, being ready with a short answer is useful.
If you like talking about your profession, then reveal some free information and see if the other person shows more interest. After a few sentences about your line of work, it's fine to ask what he or she does for a living. For example, you can say, "So now you know a little about what I do for work. What about you?" If, however, you prefer not to discuss your work, still answer the question in a word or two. Then add free information about what you do want to talk about. For example, you might say, "To pay the bills I work as an attorney for a bank, but my real passion is French cooking!"
You can reveal other basic facts about yourself, while guiding the direction of the conversation. If you insist on not disclosing this information, the other party will slowly become suspicious (especially if he has given out that information) or lose interest in trying to get to know you. If you expect to be friends with this person, how long can you withhold this basic information?
Many people who don't like to tell others what they do are also anxious about other types of ritual questions. They feel small talk is dull and boring, and should be avoided. Instead, they say they want to talk about something important.
While there isn't a particular order as to how conversations should proceed, most conversations that do not go through the "ritual" phases rarely proceed to deeper and more meaningful levels. Small talk is a very important element in conversations and in establishing friendships and relationships.
The Power of Small Talk
Small talk often gets a bad rap, but it is one of the most useful communication tools we have. Small talk encourages conversation because it:
1. Demonstrates a willingness to talk.
2. Allows people to exchange basic information and find common interests.
3. Provides an opportunity for speakers to reveal the topics that they want to talk about.
Getting to Know You
Ritual questions allow you to reveal basic personal information in a natural and informal way. By exchanging little details about one another, you can get to know the person you are talking with very quickly. Ritual questions help you quickly determine if you would like to get to know this person better. Ritual questions help you to find out and disclose personal backgrounds, and provide an opportunity to discover the "big things" in a person's life.
Ask ritual questions when you want to break the ice or change topics in conversation. If your ritual question gets a brief response, try another until you get an enthusiastic response. When you discover an area of interest in the other person, be sure to follow with an open-ended information-seeking question. When the topic seems to be running out of steam (you don't have to talk a subject completely out), return to another ritual question based on free information that you or the other person revealed earlier.
If you employ these ritual question techniques for breaking the ice with the people you meet, you'll discover they really do work. Being the first to say hello won't be a problem any longer.
3. Know What to Say by Listening (Active Listening)
Okay, so you ask a few ritual questions, then what do you say? You always seem to run out of things to talk about in less than a minute! You can never think of what to say next!
Don't Think -- Listen for "Key Words"!
Know what to say next by listening carefully for key words, facts, opinions, feelings, and most of all, free information. Don't think about what you are going to say next, because while you are thinking, you're not listening! Most shy people are usually so preoccupied with -- "Oh no, it's going to be my turn to talk soon, and I won't know what to say!" -- that they don't hear what the other person is saying.
The solution to this problem is to use active listening skills while the other person is speaking. These include using good body language, especially eye contact, smiling, and nodding in response. Active listening encourages people to continue speaking, and it shows that your attention is focused on the conversation.
Improve Your Listening Skills
Conversation problems include poor listening, memory, and concentration skills. There is usually enough time for your mind to wander while you are being spoken to, and many people speak slowly and with lengthy pauses between thoughts. The result is that your mind may wander. You can lose your concentration and even the main idea of the conversation.
Ask Relevant Follow-up Questions
Asking relevant follow-up questions based on what the other person has said shows you are listening. Closed-ended questions help to clarify facts and details. Open-ended questions encourage the speaker to elaborate and suggest that you are interested in the topic.
Ask for and think of examples that support or question what is being said. If you are not sure what the other person is saying, or you don't understand what she is talking about, ask for an example to make the point clear for you.
A good listener is actively involved in the conversation, and can often anticipate what the speaker is going to say next. This involvement shows concern and interest, and will usually reinforce facts and details. If you anticipated the speaker correctly, then you know you are probably on the same wavelength. If your anticipations were not correct, this can be a warning signal that you and your partner are not tuned in to each other, and that a misunderstanding may be developing. Caution: Don't finish the other person's sentences. Not only is it rude, it shows you're not listening.
It is not uncommon for people talking to wander off the main topic. When you are listening, it is helpful to keep the main theme in mind, and from time to time, summarize what the other person has said. You can say something like: "It sounds to me like you are saying...Am I right?" This focuses your listening skills, and helps you remember important details and the main ideas of the conversation. When you understand her main point, restate it. For example, you can say, "If I understand you correctly, you think..."
Get Actively Involved
Conversations are more fun when you get actively involved. By participating, you'll improve your listening skills and retention of details and main ideas. Plus, the other person will feel more comfortable because you're showing interest in what he has been talking about. Be sure to link the new information with your prior knowledge and experience. Ask yourself: "How does what he just said relate to my understanding and experience of the topic?" Combining your prior knowledge and new information will provide you with enough new questions and comments to easily continue the conversation.
Listen for "Iceberg" Statements
An "iceberg" statement is a comment or a piece of free information where 90 percent is under the surface, waiting to be asked about. Iceberg statements usually come in the form of one or two words that accompany answers to ritual questions. These statements are hints about topics that the person really wants to talk about if she thinks you might be interested. When you hear an iceberg statement like, "You'll never believe what happened to me..." or "Guess what I've been doing," quickly ask a related follow-up question or say: "What happened?" or "You don't say! Tell me, how was it?" Other follow-up open-ended questions are "Why do you say that?" "In what ways?" and "How so?"
How do I enter a conversation at a networking event when two or three people are talking to each other?
To enter a conversation in progress, you must be within listening and speaking range. Move close to the people speaking and show interest in what is being said. Use plenty of eye contact, nodding, and smiling to send the signal to the speaker that you want to hear more. Often, when a speaker sees you are interested in what he is saying, he will begin to include you as a listener.
When there is a pause, or the speaker says something you can respond to, then interject your comment or question into the conversation. If you use easy-to-answer information questions, the answers will be directed to you specifically. Say something like, "What did you do then?" or "How did you arrive at that conclusion?" or "That's a truly incredible story! How long ago did this happen?"
You may be saying to yourself that this is an intrusion into a private conversation. If you have listened and carefully observed the people, you will quickly be able to determine if they are receptive. In many cases, especially at networking functions, the speaker is searching for others to interact with, and a new person who shows interest in participating is usually welcome.
Caution: Be careful not to play devil's advocate -- that is, to take an opposition position for the sake of argument. This usually leads to a tense and competitive conversation, with a winner and a loser. You won't be considered a welcome addition to a conversation with a group of strangers if you make them look stupid or embarrassed in front of their friends or colleagues.
Good Listening Requires Practice and Concentration
Active listening skills need to be practiced and will aid your conversational abilities immensely. They will encourage those you talk with to elaborate further and to feel more comfortable in opening up to you. When you share a person's enthusiasm for a topic by listening closely to what he says, you are giving him a "green light" to continue. Active listening shows your interest and curiosity in a person by sending this message: "I'm interested in what you are saying -- keep talking, I want to hear more!"
4. Seek More Information Based on Free Information
After you have broken the ice, asked a few ritual questions, and used active listening, then seek further information based on the free information you have learned. By taking advantage of free information, you can guide the direction of the conversation. Ask open-ended questions that refer to the free information either you or your conversation partner has revealed.
Free information is communicated by a person's clothing, physical features, body language, personal behavior, and activities, as well as by her words. Sometimes free information will consist of a general impression. Then you can say something like: "You seem to know a lot about _________. Are you involved with _________?" or "You sound like an expert. Do you teach a class on that subject?" or "That laptop you're using sure looks cool. What kind is it?"
Always try to follow closed-ended ritual questions with an open-ended ritual question, to give your partner a chance to elaborate on the topic. For example, "What made you decide to buy that model?" Pay close attention to facts, details, and especially more free information, with the idea of directing the conversation into areas of mutual interest.
When discussing areas of professional interest, take care not to "pick the person's brain." Don't ask for free advice on a particular problem you are having. For example, if you meet a dentist, DON'T say: "Oh, you're a dentist! How convenient! Say, I've got this sore tooth here, and I was wondering, as long as we are here, would you take a look?" Most professionals don't mind telling others what they do, and even discussing their work if they think you are interested, but they resent being hit up for a free office visit.
Asking Personal Questions
Asking personal questions always requires a particular sensitivity to the other person's feelings, and especially his level of receptivity to you. It is usually best to preface personal questions with a softener like, "Excuse me for asking but..." or "I'd love to know, if you don't mind telling me...?" or "I hope I'm not being too personal, but...?" or "If you don't mind my asking...?"
If you ask a personal question in such a way that the other person does not have to answer, often he will respond in some form. It may not be the direct answer you are looking for, because many people have trouble saying what they really mean, especially it it's about a sensitive topic. However, if you listen carefully for free information and look for receptive body language, you can get an idea about whether the person trusts you enough to reveal some personal information.
How do you gracefully tell someo
|Book:||How To Start A Conversation And Make Friends: Revised And Updated|
|Author:||Don Gabor Mary Power(Illustrator)|
|Publisher:||Simon and Schuster|
|Number of Pages:||208|
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