As an introvert, I’m not a big fan of small talk – and yet I love chatting with strangers.
So, how does that work exactly?
The key for me is moving beyond surface-level topics and steering onto something more meaningful.
Every person in the world has a wealth of interesting stories, facts and emotions that are changing constantly. If you think about it, we’re all pretty fascinating (even when we don’t really feel like it).
So how do we stop talking about the weather forecast and tap into some of those other, way-more-interesting anecdotes?
Become genuinely curious.
People can tell when you’re listening to them. I mean, really listening. It’s one thing to simply ask a question, and another to show that you actually want to hear the answer.
That could mean looking directly in their eyes, showing a little smile, or simply conveying your authentic curiosity in your tone. If your comment, compliment, or question comes from a genuine place, they’ll instantly know if you actually want to engage them – or are just saying something to be polite.
Pick up on small clues about their clothes, accent, or something they said that you want to know more about. Things that actually interest you, or are natural follow-up questions that give an opportunity to learn more.
Maybe you’re at a networking event and someone mentions being brand new to the city. Ask if they’re enjoying their new home, and where they moved from. Then give a couple of local recommendations for them to check out.
Or compliment a woman on her necklace, which might lead to discovering your shared love of vintage jewelry. The segue from the surface level topic (the necklace) into something more meaningful and actually helpful (the best vintage jewelry places in the city) is practically seamless.
Not only do you now have more places to shop for your beloved accessories, you’ve actually made a new friend. And it all started with a simple compliment and a little curiosity.
Sometimes we can get a little excited when the other person says something that reminds us of an experience in our own life, and we unintentionally interrupt to share our own story before we forget it.
If you get sidetracked like that (happens to me all the time), try to catch yourself and steer back to the topic at hand to show the other person you’re still interested in what they were saying.
If you can’t remember what led you down the path to your tangent, simply say something like “I’m sorry, I got excited and interrupted your story – you were telling me about that time you were in Cambodia, with the peanut-stealing monkeys…”
If you approach every conversation with open curiosity, chances are you’ll not only learn something surprising and interesting about another person, but you’ll get to share your own experiences too – and gain some great insights from that.
Some of the best personal revelations I’ve had have come during random conversations, either with friends or strangers, where my natural question-asking of the other person led to those same questions being asked of me. Turning the tables like that was just enough to take half-formed thoughts and ideas from simply floating around in my head to putting them into words and concrete thoughts to share with the other person.
What was the push that got me to go full time with my own business?
How did my solo trip to Iceland help me get through that painful break-up?
What is my favorite book on copywriting??
These are questions that are actually really fun to answer, but that we don’t normally sit around asking ourselves. When you show genuine curiosity and good listening skills to other people, they tend to come back to you in a really fun way.
So the next time you’re out in public, or out with a friend, become genuinely curious. Pick up on clues that truly interest you and ask away!
It feels amazing to know that someone else is generally interested in you and your life. As the adage goes “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.” Word.