Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Art of Conversation

Do you have trouble starting a conversation? Some people really struggle with not knowing what to say, while other people could cozy up to a barracuda. My husband is someone that can talk to anyone. I, on the other hand, really struggle with small talk. I've watched him for twenty-two years, and I'm still not sure how he does it. I've learned a few things, but I practice them with varying degrees of success. But for what it's worth, here are some of the conversation starter tips (Do's and Don'ts, if you will.)
First, use their name. It personalizes things and puts your attention on them, which is flattering to most people. Then ask them how they're doing. Sometimes that will elicit a little bit of conversation from them about what's going on in their lives. Of course, the down side of that is they could end up telling you more than you ever wanted to know about their gall bladder surgery.
If "How're you doing" only gets you a "fine" in response, you can always move on to current news. Tossing out a sports comment can be good, but if the person you're trying to engage in conversation doesn't follow sports, then they may not care that Lester "Bubba" Smith just won his fourth straight hog-calling championship in a killer final round that lasted three hours and sixteen minutes. There's nothing worse than a blank stare or a shrug, so be careful about the sports and entertainment comments unless you know some of their interests.
A comment on the current political climate can usually get the ball rolling. I've noticed lately that I can throw out, "So what do you think of the Republicans' choice for Vice President?" and that will start a conversation swirling around me in no time flat.
Sometimes, as hard as it is to start a conversation, it's even harder to get out of one. The sports comment can bring on the stats of every NFL player for the last fifteen years. The Vice Presidential question can bring on a political rant that will never end. So how do you stop the conversation?
Well, you can always pretend to spot someone across the room that you need to talk to. You look just past the shoulder of the person you're listening to. Nod and hold up your index finger as if to tell someone you'll be there in a minute. Then wait for the person to take a breath. When they do, you excuse yourself saying you have to get hold of so-and-so across the room.
You can always glance at your watch and be on your way. Of course, that's a problem if you just go there.
All in all, there's one surefire conversation stopper. It's embarrassing, and should only be used in desperate times, but here it is. Wait for an opening and then throw out the following line: "Man, you wouldn't believe the time I had yesterday at my proctologist appointment." That's when the other person suddenly spots someone across the room and hurries away. Works every time!

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