Have you ever wondered how some people tend to chatter non-stop throughout in discussions while there are others who easily engage the attention of others in interesting conversations, keeping them hooked? Do you struggle with having interesting conversations with others?
Do you felt stuck in conversations, especially with people you are not familiar with and there comes an awkward silence before each of you try to find excuses to go separate ways?
How can we break that awkwardness? How do we build camaraderie if we are not able to connect with the acquaintance we just met?
Managing Awkward Conversations
In most circumstances, people already have an in-built filter on evaluating people they’ve just met.
Just in case you’re wondering, have you ever noticed that there are times when you have already decided if someone is your ‘type’ of friends or circle from the very initial stage? Are there instances when you have already decided not to befriend that person even before you both said ‘Hi’?
If you want to enjoy mutual, if not great connections with people, it’s more than advisable to put these pre-conceived beliefs on the side. You’ll never know how interesting or amazing someone is until you really get to know them. As the saying goes, ‘don’t judge the book by its cover’.
First Things First: Keep An Open Mind.
After all, whatever topics you bring to the table on the onset of meeting each other are most likely the usually polite and on-the-surface conversations like weather, studies and so on. People rarely put forward their inner most feelings or topics that they are passionate about in the first meeting until they know if you are interested in what they have to say or if you have similar interests.
For instance, you may be passionate about reading, soccer or badminton, but the other person you have just met may not. So, it will become a boring conversation in the end. This is also the same for topics in which we or they have little knowledge about.
Say if they are interested in music, arts or science, but you have little knowledge and interests on these, it would make the interaction and conversation more painful.
No matter who thinks and feels what, if there is an incongruence in interests, both parties will feel it. This is when conversations trail off into silence because the other party does not feel listened to.
However, keeping an open mind means to be receptive of what comes along, even when you might not agree with them. When you keep your interests and attention on the person you have just met, keeping an open mind and being curious, you might find that the conversation could end up evolving into something that you both enjoy. Even though initially, you might not feel anything interesting about the topics.
It is how you build the connection that determines the way conversations are headed towards.
In fact, being able to engage others in conversations does not really require one to have eloquent speeches or be extremely knowledgeable in certain fields. You just need to show interest!
Here are some ways you can improve on your conversations with people, even those that you have just met.
Show interest and be interested, on the topic and on the person!
You may be an interesting person, but to be able to engage others, you also need to demonstrate interests in others. Nobody likes someone who talks about themselves or what they do or love all the time.
Share the stage with others so they feel involved in the conversation. With a back and forth approach, you might find that topics last longer and you might learn something new in the process.
When we talk about our interest, thoughts and experiences all the time, others will only know as much as we share and our knowledge is only confined to what we know or speak about. When there is interaction flow, you might find that others may have different experiences and gain new takeaways from each other in the discussion.
Stay interested in the topics and as well as the person. When we talk about issues that we are passionate about, our pace of speech and body posture/language changes quite obviously.
We get more animated in our expressions and voice. We feel excited and we also tend to get carried away. As the person speaking, it might be a good idea to check out the response from the persons you’re talking with to see if they are still listening or if they are still looking at you but they don’t seem quite there?
As a listener, you might find that the more passionate the speaker gets, the more questions you can ask to engage further, especially if you share similar interests. It might lead to a more in-depth discussion of the topic, or you might find out more about the speaker, which can lead to more understanding and interesting connection.
Listen vs Active Listening
As mentioned earlier, one could have been present at the conversation but they could be lost in space as the conversations drift off. This happens when the listener has lost the connection with the speaker, or when they couldn’t understand what was being communicated or discussed at some point.
You might also have realised that at some situations, we had questions to ask but the speaker was so excited about what they were talking that it felt rude to cut them off and so on our mind goes.
Listening not only means words goes into our ears, hearing them talk. How many times have we left a conversation not really remembering what we’ve just talked about? That happens when we’re not mindfully present even though we looked at them or nodded during the conversations.
There is also active listening where you listen beyond words. Say, for instance, we tend to politely reject the invitation, but we would not say “No” directly so we end up responding with “I’ll let you know again” or some other reasons.
There could also be situations when the conversations went on to become more sensitive and we asked certain questions that may not be comfortable, the speaker may respond with other messages which do not directly answer us. That is where active listening comes in.
Active listening comes with practice and requires not only us to be fully present and listening, but also require putting ourselves in their shoes.
How many times do we say we listened but we were already cutting them off with our replies before they finished their sentence? Have we really understood what the other person is trying to send across? How much have we understood them in their stories?
Sometimes we think we’re listening, but when we’re asked about how much we really took in the content, we struggle with re-telling the story or discussion we’ve just had. How is that so?
When others are talking to us, besides trying to break down the content and coming up with responses, we tend to also understand the context based on our already in-built filter or beliefs.
For example, one could have mentioned, “I was hungry and angry.” We may tend to link both emotions together and assume that he/she was angry because they were hungry. However, if we clarified and asked further, we might find that he/she was hungry but it was not the source of their anger; someone could have said or done something to them at that time which caused both emotions to surface.
There is another instance when we think we share the same sentiments. However, no matter how similar our situations may be (or even when both were in the same event at the same time and place), how each of us feels and experience varies greatly.
Say for instance, when we talk about swimming, we might think that swimming is a fun activity because we may be (i) doing it once in a while (ii) we like being in water (iii) we think of it as bonding sessions with our family.
However, to others, it may be a different thing altogether. This is because
(i) swimming may mean a compulsory activity for them since young
(ii) they might have had to practise swimming for hours in cold weather
(iii) they were being instructed to learn to swim for various reasons.
In this example, both parties’ perceptions towards swimming are in opposite directions so how would we be able feel the way they’re feeling when they say they dislike swimming if it didn’t make the same sense to us then?
Hence, this calls for us to practise empathy, meaning we put ourselves in their shoes and see it from their perspectives on their experiences and feelings.
So really, there are a lot of invisible processing going on within ourselves and also others even in simple conversations.
From the moment we enter a room with unfamiliar faces, we are already evaluating ourselves and each faces that we come across which also means, we are practising judgement and comparison.
When we first met someone, we are evaluating them and they too could be doing the same to us. During conversations, depending on each individual, we might end up not listening because we could be too focused on ourselves, or we wanted to impress with smart or witty comebacks, or we are already processing how we want the conversation to go, all in the back of our minds.
Within all these complexities, a similar process is also going through the heads of others (if you are in groups). So, it takes a huge amount of awareness and consciousness to realise how we think, act and react, and to process the feedback and body language of others towardsus as well.
Perhaps the next time when we talk to others, both to strangers and people whom we are close with, what we can do is to pay more attention to them, rather than towards ourselves. In doing so, the other party will feel that someone is listening to them, someone is interested in what they think and say, someone understands and they felt listened to.
That, in essence, breaks down much of the barriers we may come across when trying to make conversations, and towards making friends.
Most of all, be genuine in being you. People can sense sincerity and interests, if not smell it from afar.