Conversation Skills Lead to Fellowship
By Debra Fine
Do you dread meetings, parties and events where you do not know anyone? Does attending another open house make you want to run inside your own and lock the door? You’re not alone. Many of us feel apprehensive about these situations because most of us hate entering rooms where we don’t know anyone in them. Keeping a conversation going during social occasions can be an ordeal. Everyone learns technical skills required of their jobs, but not everyone places importance on conversational skills. The ability to talk easily with anyone is a learned skill, not a personality trait. Learning this will help you develop rapport with people and cultivate true fellowship.
Next time you attend a civic meeting, charity event or after church or synagogue services, look around the room. Reflect on the following poem before moving on to the rest of your day:
Thoughts from a New Member:
I see you at the meetings, But you never say hello.
You’re busy all the time you’re there
With those you really know. I sit among the members,
Yet I’m a lonely gal. The new ones feel as strange as I,
The old ones pass us by. Darn it, you folks urged us to join
And talked of fellowship, You could just cross the room, you know,
But you never make the trip. Can’t you just nod your head and smile
Or stop and shake a hand, Then go sit among your friends?
Now that I’d understand. I’ll be at your next meeting,
And hope that you will spend the time to introduce yourself,
I joined to be your friend.
My book “The Fine Art of Small Talk” is a guidebook for conversation from the icebreaker to the exit line. Here are a few tips you can use to improve your small talk skills:
- Greet people warmly give eye contact and smile. Be the first to say hello. Be careful, you might be viewed as a snob if you are not the first to say hello.
- Use the person’s name in conversation. If you don’t know someone’s name, take a moment to ask, and then repeat it. Be sure to pronounce it correctly. And never presume your conversation partner has a nickname. My name is Debra, not Debbie. I don’t feel good when people call me Debbie. It’s a little thing that has big importance.
- Show an interest in others. In response to our high tech environment filled with e-mail and fax broadcasts, we need high touch more than ever. That’s what you create when you show an interest in others every chance you get.
- Dig deeper. When you engage in a conversation, don’t leave it too quickly. If a vacation is mentioned, pick up on the cue and dig deeper. Ask where she went, what she did, what was the highlight, if she would go back. You’ll make her feel good about her life and about taking time with you. Always follow up a question like “How’s work?” with “What’s been going on at work since the last time we spoke?” This way they know you really want to hear about what is going on with work.
- Be a good listener. That means making eye contact and responding with verbal cues to show you hear what the speaker says. Verbal cues include these phrases: tell me more; what happened first, what happened next, that must have been difficult, and so on. Using them makes people feel “actively” listened to.
- Stop being an advisor. When you mention a problem you might be having, do people offer unsolicited advice? Jumping in with unsolicited advice happens annoyingly often. Instead of advice, give understanding with simple phrases like: “I know you can work out a solution” or “I hope all goes well for you” or “Is there anything I can do to help?” Offer advice only when you are specifically asked for it.
- Prepare for conversation. Spend a few minutes before an anticipated event preparing to talk easily about three topics. They will come in handy when you find yourself in the middle of an awkward moment…or seated at a table of eight where everyone is playing with their food.
- Take caution with acquaintances. You wouldn’t want to open a conversation with: “How is your job at (fill in the blank)?” What if that person was recently fired or laid off? Be careful when you’re asking about an acquaintance’s spouse or special friend: you could regret it.
- Be aware of body language. Nervous or ill-at-ease people make others uncomfortable. Act confident and comfortable, even when you’re not.
- Don’t melt from conversations. Be prepared with exit lines. You do need to move around and meet others. Make a positive impression by shaking hands and saying goodbye as you leave.
Every encounter involves risk. As long as you keep looking for new people to meet, and you show an interest in other people, you can make friends and enjoy lively conversations.