A friend once said about the nasty temptation to gossip: “It makes sense. Human beings are fascinating and we want to talk about them.” Turn this vice into a virtue, and start making real encounters with people by learning the art of conversation. Go deep!
Do you remember 4th grade, doing those logic puzzles that seemed modeled after the game “Clue?” It usually began with a prompt, and then a series of seemingly unrelated facts—“Miss Cheryl’s Birthday cake was stolen while she was on lunch break at work. She works with four other women: Miss Ruby, Miss Babe, Miss Joy, and Miss Coco. Miss Ruby was found in the restroom after the theft occurred. She had gone in there after Miss Joy, but before Miss Coco. Miss Cheryl was at her desk until 11am, ran to the mailroom for 15 minutes, and 5 minutes before she returned, Miss Babe walked into the kitchen.”
The puzzles are meant to hone “reading between the lines,” a skill that is fading in an age of instant reward and immediate change of interest. In preparation for this article, I read a lot of commentaries on the art of conversation, and things boiled down to this one principle: Listen to what’s NOT being said. Tuned conversationalists make it a priority to pull information out of the other person, including deep emotions, dreams, and motivations, while contributing only 20% of the input into the conversation.
Perfect conversation flows easily because the parties are able to harness the flow of grabbing a fact, diving into the deep reaches of reason and emotion, wrestling the topic for awhile by probing and prodding, then rising to the surface for a laugh and change of topic. If you can master this social grace, people will want to talk with you. You will get to know people very quickly. You will make deep friendships fast. You will get what you want (in the case of a deal or sale). And ultimately, you will have more satisfying human connections.
Initiating good conversation is a gift to another person. You get to the root of their human existence and help them reflect on their decisions by asking provocative questions. You relate to them and confirm that they are not alone in experiencing the world, for better or worse.
As an actress, I recognize that many of the techniques used in this craft of conversation are similar to my own training. You must Be In the Moment and Listen. You must not Judge. You must be Empathetic, but Not Allow Emotions to Swallow the Energy of the Moment. Conflict is Interesting. Above all, you must be Honest! Even if you disagree with someone, if you acknowledge your differing opinions with validation, express your own reservations, and offer alternatives, you will be able to maintain a fascinating respect.
Surely the best way to relate to someone in conversation is through Common Experience. The more countries you’ve traveled, languages you speak, foods you like, jobs you’ve worked, books you’ve read, hobbies you invest in, family legacies you can relate — the list is infinite — the better you will relate.
In short, one of the best ways to be an interesting person is to live life! Encourage your conversation partner to do the same through affirmation and excitement.