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Keys to Unlocking Conversation

Well, last month we talked about getting out and meeting people.  Now let's talk about what to do when you do meet someone.

Perhaps you have trouble figuring out what to say when meeting a new person.   You can't figure out how to "break the ice" or you get very anxious in anticipation of meeting people.  Here are some basic skills that can help.

First  of all let's review a bit.  Get yourself ready to go out and meet new people by working a little on your self esteem and reducing your anxiety:

Take these 4 steps to minimize negative self talk (the way you talk to yourself in your own mind) which can result in anxiety and even social paralysis (avoiding social situations completely or keeping to yourself when you are in a social situation) :

  • Stop labeling yourself negatively (example: don't tell yourself  "I'm a loser.  I never make friends.  I never know what to say."       Don't do this to yourself on the way to a social event and don't do it afterwards when you are evaluating yourself (while you're at it, just stop doing it, it's not good for you) .
  • Identify some strengths that you have and repeat them to yourself before making contact
  • Change your conception  of the social encounter - believe that you have nothing to lose, don't let too much ride on it.
  • Stop personalizing rejection - think of the reasons you might reject an offer of conversation, friendship or a date.
  • Ok.  You have the opportunity to talk to someone.  What do you say?  Here are some ways to break the ice:

  • Ask "ritual questions" such as "what's your name?", "how are you", "do you work here", "how do you know the host?" be curious.
  • Ask for information - "do you know where the office is?", "Where do I put my coat?"
  • Give a compliment
  • Comment on the situation you're in, note anything you have in common, think about where you are
  • Humor - you can always say something funny (this may be a little advanced)

  • Keep in mind the basics of conversation:

    1. Asking questions
    2. Active Listening - letting the person know you hear what they are saying, sort of summarizing and clarifying, paraphrasing "so your dog got off his leash and you had to chase him for three blocks, wow!"  This lets the person know you are listening and interested.
    3. Self Disclosure - Telling something about yourself, revealing yourself

    Some other tips:

  • Focus on the situation you are in - you can always make a comment about where you are - "The cafeteria line is so long today."
  • Take a risk and be the first to say "Hello"
  • Be curious of others.
  • Be aware of the two-way exchange in conversation (speaking and listening, asking questions about the other person, and telling about yourself.)
  • Be yourself
  • Seek a connection of goals, experiences, and ideas  ("yeah me too", "oh really, I think that..."

  • Body language that signals you are receptive:

    Smile (but of course use the appropriate facial expression depending on what you end up discussing)
    Use an open posture (arms and legs uncrossed)
    Lean in, slightly forward
    Touch (this is a tricky one, shaking hands is always acceptable, sometimes a touch on the hand or shoulder is appropriate to show interest in a person or caring, use your own good judgment, if you are unsure, don't touch!)
    Make frequent eye contact, steady but not staring
    Nod of head
    Squarely face the person
    Keep a comfortable distance (this varies in different cultures,look around and see what others are doing)

    How to Practice:

    Use friends and relatives
    Stirke up conversations with people in various situations
    Visualize different scenarios using the ice breakers.  Visualize that the conversation was successful because you are warm, friendly, confident, and relaxed.
    Practice visualizing rejection to desensitize yourself  to it.

    Good policies regarding meeting people:

    Take a risk
    Don't worry what others think of you
    Do some new things
    Be open to new ideas
    Be interested in other people's lives and stories

    This is just an introduction.  There are many good books on communication.

    I used the following books to write this article:

    Messages the Communication Skills Book
    Mckay, Matthew
    Davis, Martha
    Fanning, Patrick
    New Harbinger Press

    How to Start a Conversation and Make Friends
    by Don Gabor
    Simon and Schuster

    Phone Dr. Helen:  310/393-8783
    email questions to helen@drhelen.com

    More Articles:

    Meeting People

    Setting Goals

    Assertiveness Training

    How to Heal a Broken Heart

    Simple Stress Relief