The One Word Inspiration series is a guest post series on Clear the Way which asks different visiting bloggers to share whatever they are inspired to share when they hear only one word. The word changes each month and today Bethany from Cloistered Away is here to share her inspiration from the word opening.
I’m an introvert by nature–not the Holden Caufield sort who only prefers to be alone, avoiding people altogether, but the sort who enjoys smaller, more intimate drinks with 1-2 friends to a large cocktail party. I have friends and family who effortlessly make themselves at home in the latter, seamlessly transitioning from one conversation to the next with new acquaintances. Regardless of which type of gathering you prefer, opening conversations with new friends/acquaintances can be difficult and a little awkward, even. Today, I want to share a few tips I’ve collected from my own experience and interactions with with others on opening new conversations.
Put away your phone.
Perhaps this is the easiest vice when we find ourselves fumbling in an awkward, new conversation, especially when we’re not interested in the subject matter. It’s simple (and habitual for many of us) to reach to see what other more interesting things are happening through medias or to immediately answer texts or emails. However, according to a study in the Scientific American , simply having your cell phone present can lead to lower relationship quality and closeness. As a general rule of thumb, it’s best to tuck that phone into your pocket or purse and focus on a new connection.
Make eye contact.
Although most of us know to make eye contact with the person talking, it can be the most difficult skill to practice in a new conversation and in a busy atmosphere. However, eye contact communicates to your new acquaintance that they have your attention and you’re interested in what they have to say, which brings me to the next point:
William Hazlitt once wrote, “the art of conversation is the art of hearing as well as of being heard.” Have you ever had someone respond to your conversation with the rhetorical “uh-huh” or “right” or “mmm” and then begin talking about something entirely different? We call this the conversational hijack, and it is one of the quickest ways to shut down a conversation, to signal to the other person what you have to say is more important. Generally, we should avoid this in any conversation, but especially a new one. Instead, be intentional about your response. Try phrases such as “thank you for sharing that with me” or “great point. I hadn’t considered that before.” If you’ve exhausted a certain topic, try segueing to a lateral topic with a question, “have you ever thought about _____?” or “Tell me about _____.”
Arrive armed with intentional questions.
Before you arrive, consider the other people at the gathering. Are you acquainted with anyone or complete strangers? It’s always easy to lean on the “what do you do?” But this can sometimes make people uncomfortable, as if they’re being judged by their occupation (or lack of). Instead try questions about their interests: “Are you reading anything right now?” or “do you enjoy traveling? What trip had the most surprises for you?” or “What do enjoy doing on the weekends?”
Balance the conversation.
No one enjoys a monopolized conversation. If there’s more than two people in the conversation, make sure everyone in the conversation is having a chance to speak and share. If you’re a big talker, try talking less and listening. If you’re naturally more quiet (or notice someone else is) be more intentional about asking questions and answering a few. I hope these ideas will help you out of an awkward opening soon. (Wink.) Thank you for having me, Kate.