I was at a happy hour networking event and I was introduced to a girl named Primrose (alias alert!!!). Primrose had a big smile, made good eye contact, and seemed very nice. She asked me what I did and where I worked, and after obliging her with a quick answer I asked her the same thing. As she spoke I decided that she was nice and thought that maybe we could be friends. I also noticed she was wearing really cute shoes, so I made a mental note to mention it. Two hours later she was still talking, a smile adorning her face as she added word after word to the monologue that was slowly destroying my will to live. I didn’t want to be her friend anymore. I began to hate her voice. I even hated her shoes because they didn’t have the decency to cause her pain thereby forcing her to sit down and allow me to leave. She had been telling the same story for a whole hour and never paused! I just wanted her to stop talking for half a second so I could politely excuse myself and leave. Then as she was finishing her story about how she chose to become a scientist, my friend Beth came over to say hello to me and introduced herself to Primrose. I was fully prepared to ditch sweet Beth and leave her with the destroyer of happiness. What a great friend I am! Sorry Beth. With a new victim to distract Primrose, I prepared to sneak off, but she just said hello to Beth and kept on talking to ME!!!!! She took off on a new topic, vacations she’d taken and vacations she wanted to take, and Beth got to walk away, ignored but otherwise unscathed. I was stuck listening to Primrose for another hour. I would probably still be standing there today, but the event ended. I didn’t get to speak to anyone else!
I guess you could blame me for not cutting Primrose off and walking away, but I couldn’t be that rude. After all, there was no malice in what she was doing. She wasn’t being mean to me, she was just self-centered and long-winded. I couldn’t in good conscience interrupt her babbling, and she didn’t have the social grace to shut up. However, politeness only goes so far and if I ever see Primrose again I’m going to run. If she sneaks up on me, I will know to excuse myself immediately during the initial hellos. I will not get stuck with her again.
I can’t help Primrose. I can’t walk up to her and say “hi, remember me? I just want you to know that my last interaction with you made me hate the fact that God gave humans the ability to speak. Conversations are a two way street, so let other people have a turn talking.” I can help myself and other people however by using Primrose as a guide for how to converse with people.
1. Topics of mutual interest. What are you talking about? If you are using “I, me, and my” and not using “you or your” then you may be stuck in self-centeredville. It is okay to talk about yourself, but not ad nauseum. Talk about things that you have in common. If you don’t know anything about them, offer a little fact about yourself and ask a related question about the other person. Tit for tat!
Example: My husband and I live downtown in Blackberry Tower. We really love being able to walk everywhere, especially since we have dogs. Do you live close by?
Asking about the other person shows interest, and lets that person actively participate in the conversation by speaking about a topic they are comfortable with, themselves.
2. Brevity. A good conversationalist gives the other person frequent opportunities to speak. It is important in this respect to be careful not to drone on and on and on. If you’ve been talking for five minutes without pausing, you’ve been talking for four minutes too long. At a certain point, no matter how witty you are, people will become bored of listening to your monologue. So tell your story, hit the highs and omit too much extraneous detail.
Example (what not to do): I woke up this morning around 8:30, which is strange because I thought I had set my alarm clock for 8:00 while I was watching The Smurfs the night before. I know it sounds juvenile but I love The Smurfs from when I was little, so I still watch them every now and then! So I got out of bed and made oatmeal, you know, the kind with strawberries. I buy the generic brand because it has less sugar. Then I remembered I hadn’t got the mail yesterday because it was raining when I got home from Forever 21 and I ran inside so I wouldn’t get wet. That reminds me, they had the cutest t-shirt with a red chow chow puppy on it. I may go back and get it for my sister. Anyway, sorry for rambling, so I went outside to walk to the mailbox this morning. I was distracted for a second because the sun was in my eyes and I tripped over the planter by the front steps. How graceful am I, right? I’ve never been very coordinated, my mom says that I was born with two left feet. I think it’s why I was never good at ballet. Not that I really liked wearing tutus, they made my butt look big. So my oatmeal went flying all over the driveway and I was on my knees cursing when my neighbor Brian came out of his house, gave me a weird look, muttered good morning, and got in his car to go to work. That’s when I realized that I wasn’t wearing pajama bottoms. Thank goodness I remembered underwear!
This story could be interesting and funny and has real potential as a crowd pleaser! But the extraneous detail is likely to distract listeners from the story and when you finally get to the point their minds will have wandered, thus eliciting “wait what did you just say?” from your audience when they hear the word “underwear”.
3. Active listening. Listening to what others are saying is as important as what you say. A good conversationalist listens to what the other person says and incorporates it into their response. It acknowledges that you are interested in them and that you value the interaction. It makes the other person feel good about talking to you, and makes them want to continue the conversation. For instance, when you talk to people you expect them to listen, right? People don’t like feeling ignored so really pay attention to what they are saying. I.e. when you are having a conversation, don’t just go through the motions and pretend to listen to the other person. People can tell when you are waiting for them to shut up so you can start talking again. It’s rude. If you don’t want to listen to someone, then when they stop talking, excuse yourself and walk away.
4. Social ques. Keep an eye out for ques that indicate you have spoken for too long or that you have chosen a subject that is boring or uncomfortable. For example, if the other person is shifting from side to side or avoiding eye contact all of a sudden, then switch topics.
5. All good things must come to an end. If the other person excuses him/herself don’t prolong their departure any longer than necessary by slipping in “one-more-thing” no matter how “real quick” you’re going to be. Nobody likes feeling trapped! Instead, when the other person excuses him/herself say it was nice to speak to them, and mention that you’ll tell them about that “one-more-thing” next time.
Example: It was great talking to you. Next time I’ll have to tell you about that hiking trail I think you’d like.
You never know, they may want to hear about that hiking trail immediately! Just remember, if the other person has excused herself, let her choose whether to continue the conversation.
Well, that’s all I have on this topic at the moment folks. I hope this helps us suppress any Primrose-like tendencies we may have!
Live your best life: Be a pleasant person to interact with! Strengthen existing friendships and foster new ones by becoming a good conversationalist.