Have you noticed that most conversations aren’t really conversations at all? I mean, in the sense that conversations means two or more people verbally engaging each other with thoughts and ideas.
Most conversations these days are just two people talking about themselves. Like Chuck Palahniuk books in real life.
Each of us has a Tyler Durden inside that’s, infinitely more interesting that whomever we’re chatting with at the moment. We only need them to stop talking about themselves so that we can resume talking about ourselves.
As a result, we fail to connect. We fail to find the fascinating and unique traits other people have.
I say we, but I mean me. I’m as guilty of this as anyone. I write a damn blog. Of course I want to talk about myself.
But it’s better to listen. If you want to make friends and build closer relationships, you have to learn to be a good listener. I find that the more I stop talking about myself, and focus intently on what the other person is saying, they tend to like me more.
Conversely, I tend to find them more interesting as well. People have layers of depth and thought that we rarely see for a variety of reasons, but the biggest obstacle is just letting them talk about it.
It takes practice.
Here’s what I’m trying to do on a daily basis to get better at listening:
- Only speak about myself when asked. This is hard, and sometimes you just have to reference yourself to break the ice or show someone how you share a trait or experience. Use yourself wise
- Recognize the urge to “top” someone, and push it aside. There’s nothing worse than trying to talk to a topper. I might believe I have a more interesting story than the person I’m talking to. That doesn’t mean I have to tell it right after they’re done sharing theirs.
- Repeat things back to people, if nothing else to show them that I’m actively listening
- Make mental notes on people, of if you’re like me and don’t remember things well, just write things you learn about people on their business card or in the notes on your phone
- Yeah that can be a little creepy, so don’t get obsessive about it – just note some of their traits and things that are important to them. If you know you’re going to see them again, read the notes again and you’ll remember to ask them about their sick grandmother or recent European vacation.
- Make a few “I bet” statements. If I really want to get someone’s feelings on something, or get them to talk about their passions, I use “I bet that made you feel…” or “I bet that pissed you off/made you happy/made you laugh…”
- Don’t look over shoulders. Don’t maintain constant eye contact either, because that can be creepy. I try to not look around the room, and especially over someone’s shoulder, because it implies that something else is more interesting than them.
There are some really challenging conversations to have. People that don’t talk. People that won’t stop talking. People that only want to talk about one single subject that may or may not be interesting to you.
Sometimes you have to hit the emergency exit on a conversation. I try not to do it very often, but it happens.
For me the key is finding something people are passionate about. Because most of us try to get other people interested in our passions. We’re more animated, passionate, excited when talking about these things.
It could be basketball, science, the new, or even politics and religion. Even if you disagree with what they’re saying, they’re certainly more interesting when they’re excited.
One final tip about unpleasant topics
If you do find yourself in a conversation with someone who’s saying a bunch of things you disagree with, don’t argue. Instead, play amateur psychologist and ask them why they feel so strongly about certain things. Find their origin story. You’ll learn something really interesting, and you’ll most like change the subject without them even realizing it.
I don’t do all of these things regularly, but I try to do at least one of them once a day. Soon, and I’ll document this when I do, I want to see if I can go an entire day without talking about myself unless prompted.