5 Great Ways to Avoid Killing the Conversation
One of the buzziest marketing words out there is the notion of “tribes” – groups of people with a shared worldview – which was popularized by Seth Godin’s eponymous title. A tribe in this sense doesn’t generally organize along demographic lines, but rather through shared values and passions.
Of course marketers want to be able to identify tribes because they make for great ready-made communities to buy products, but if we remove the whole consumer aspect, the notion is actually quite appealing. Imagine finding the people who you never had to explain yourself to, the people who just get you and the things you find meaningful. Life can be pretty alienating, depending on the day, but if you could find your tribe, you’d know there was always backup.
It ain’t easy, but that doesn’t mean it’s not possible. There a few identifiable things that you can do in conversation to see if maybe, just maybe, you’re talking to one of your people.
- Disagree. Don’t be a pointless ass, but if you’re always trying to smooth the waters with others, people never really know where you stand, and this can actually lead to mistrust. If people don’t think you’re expressing your truest thoughts, it can put them on the defensive.
- Add your unique perspective. Maybe you’ve travelled or taken some interesting classes. Maybe you come from a unique religious or cultural background. If you hit people with a point of view they haven’t encountered before, it sticks in their minds. This can form the basis of an interesting and productive relationship.
- Avoid autopilot. There’s an easy, predictable path that will get you through almost any conversation. It goes from pleasantries, to stock questions, to pleasantries, to gradually tuning out. If, on the other hand, you are fully present when you are speaking with someone, really thinking about what you’re saying and observing what they’re responding to, you have much better odds of stumbling your way into interesting conversational territory.
- Use direct questions. Surprisingly, the best way to throw someone a curveball in conversation can be to ask them a direct question about their opinions. Say you’ve found yourself talking about that perennial safe-bet/interest-killer, the weather. Imagine what would happen if you suddenly asked for a simple opinion like, do you prefer winter or summer? Suddenly you’ve opened up a whole new dimension to the conversation.
- Avoid using yourself as an example. We all know you’re fascinating and you’ve done all of the coolest things ever, but using yourself as an illustration often comes off as awkward and egotistical. Telling an anecdote about someone you know or pulling in an example from history or philosophy, on the other hand, illustrates to others both that you have breadth and that you don’t just see the world as all about you. Folks dig that.
It also goes without saying that you have to start conversations, which can be painful as hell for some of us. The thing is, if you’re always waiting for others to chat you up, then you’ll only ever interact with the kind of person who starts conversations with strangers. They’ll be on to the next one before you know it, and you’ll be waiting once again. It’s time to get your own game on, because your tribe is out there, just waiting for you to join!
Ryan Melsom has a PhD in literary studies and has spent over twenty years working in communications, marketing, web design, and writing. His second book Spendshift: 100 Lazy Hacks to Rock Your Finances comes out on Amazon, July 1. For more by Ryan, follow him on Twitter @lintropy, or visit his Facebook page.