I have always found it hard to talk to people that I don’t know well, and more specifically to initiate a conversation. This difficulty is multiplied when there are strangers involved, either in a social, or work situation, or in a completely random encounter at a shopping mall or on a plane.
I think this is probably because I am reasonably shy, and part of it has been because of my introvert tendencies and not wanting to engage in meaningless conversation for the sake of filling in a moment of silence.
Why bother having conversations?
As I discussed in my earlier introversion posts <you can find them here> I believe that we humans are purpose-built for community and connection with other people. Conversation allows us to make these connections, to learn from other people, to be enriched, to be encouraged, to influence, to encourage others, to minister, to provide comfort, to develop relationships.
For years I avoided making conversation and making these connections. Over time I forgot how to do it, until I was rescued by my friend Andrew who attended a Caleb Ministries training course and learned about the conversation stack, which is a very simple system for initiating and developing conversations. Andrew’s a great, natural conversationalist anyway, but he knew I’d benefit from it, so he shared this tool with me and as I’ve experimented with the conversation stack over the past couple of years, I have learned a secret…people love to talk about themselves or about things that they are interested in. If I can get people talking about themselves, it takes the pressure of me and I don’t have to talk so much.
Here’s the stack (For most general conversations I rarely get past the tennis racquet.). The left column is what you can picture in your mind to remind you of what’s coming next, the right column is the basic question to ask (you’ll need to modify it to your own style otherwise you’ll sound like you’re working through a list…you want it to feel natural, take some time to practice on your family and friends if you like.)
NAMEPLATE What is your name?
HOUSE Where do you live?
PEOPLE IN HOUSE Do you have family?
CLOCK What do you do with your time?
TENNIS RACQUET Hobbies? Sports?
LIGHT BULB Ideas, points to bounce off
GOAL POSTS Do you have goals, dreams?
QUESTION MARK Problems? Frustrations? Concerns?
SUNSET Inspirational people?
Here are a couple of points to remember when you’re using the conversation stack:
Respond, don’t interrogate:: Don’t just ask lots of questions and don’t get creepy…you’ll come off like you’re interrogating the person and they will more likely than not become defensive and clam up, defeating the purpose of using these kick-off questions. Respond to what the person shares, interact. Share about yourself a little.
Open ended questions :: Don’t ask questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no. Ask questions that require an answer that will allow the person to elaborate about their answer, and provide you with material to ask follow on questions.
Listen:: Don’t sit there thinking of your next brilliant contribution to the conversation. Really listen. Look out for gems, or places where your stories can intersect and you can connect.
No agendas:: Don’t go into any conversation with preconceived ideas of what the outcome will be. If the person thinks they are being manipulated they will shut down.
Don’t force it:: If they don’t want to talk…move on. Some people just really don’t want to talk (I’m betting you know how that is LOL)…don’t force them to.
I’ve found this system so helpful in getting past the awkward small talk that can plague so many social situations. I hope it helps you too.