This very simple and easy to follow procedure will help you develop strong conversation skills with people you know and people you don't know. This skill is meant to help you build lasting connections with people and feel at ease while doing it regardless of your knowledge of the subject or topic.
Proverbs 15:23 - A man hath joy by the answer of his mouth: and a word spoken in due season, how good is it!
The secret, if there is one, lies in the quality of a good question. I'll explain in a moment, but first there is another factor that must be addressed.
In order for this simple procedure to work, you must be comfortable with your own ignorance. You can't be intimidated by another's superior knowledge or expertise. To be ashamed or embarrassed of what you know or don't know will bleed through in your conversation. Except for some egomaniacs, people normally get embarrassed when others are embarrassed and that just makes the entire conversation awkward.
For example, I do a lot of public speaking. If I mess up in what I say, the worst thing to do is become flustered, embarrassed, or ashamed. If I start to profusely apologize, my audience becomes embarrassed for me and will begin to become uncomfortable. I not only loose the audience, but I make it so that others wish they were elsewhere. Instead, if I crack a joke about the mess up and everyone laughs, the audience not only is pulled back to what I am saying but they are relieved to see that I am comfortable with my own mistakes.
Your ignorance or awkwardness is not the problem with developing communication or social skills. It is how you come across to the other person. If you are at ease with your own lack or mistakes, you will invariably draw others to you.
Now for the procedure.
Again, the key lies within the quality of the questions you ask. Everybody on the planet has their topics which they have become passionate about. Asking good questions about other people and what they do or like to do is one of the easiest and simplest ways to engage someone in a meaningful conversation.
Step #1 -- Be Observant.
This is important. When you meet people, notice what they wear, how they sit, their surroundings (especially if they were in control of the decor) and any jewelry, or pictures.
Even noticing if someone is sad, lonely, depressed, joyful, or happy is important. Picking up on another's mood could help you determine where or if you should engage them in a conversation.
Try to pick up on the likes or dislikes of a person. For example, if you are eating with someone, notice what they order and what they specifically tell the waitress to withhold or add extra of.
Step #2 -- Ask Quality Questions about their Likes, Dislikes, Hobbies, and Ambitions.
This is to find common ground. The right types of questions, even if you know nothing about the subject, will give you valuable insights into the mind and thinking of the person you are talking to.
For example, questions about a person's career may lead to similar desires for a longer vacation and may lead you to realize you share a similar like for fishing. The conversation, from there, may center on your questions of his best fishing holes, favorite bait, and largest catch.
Be aware that your questions hint at your design. Asking someone why he's a jerk may not be the best way to engage someone in a conversation. The right question, asked in genuine curiosity, is the easiest way to start a good conversation.
For example, I met a guy who was a private detective. The only thing I know about PIs is the Hardy Boys series I read as a kid. So instead of skirting the subject, or asking ridiculous questions like, "You ever shoot someone?" I asked, "Do you find that line of work very intense?" His answer was yes and no. He then gave examples to prove his point. Nodding in understanding, I was then able to ask better questions about his job. We talked for a good hour and walked away feeling like we knew each other better.
When your questions express your interest and curiosity in another person, you will normally get positive responses to your questions.
Step #3 -- Insert Similar Feelings or Emotions of Your Own into the Conversation
Using the PI example from step 2, I said, after his response to my first question, "I know exactly how you feel. My job as a pastor can be intense and at other times just plain grueling." His curiosity was piqued and he asked a question or two about my job. Soon we discovered that one of the things we both shared was our like for the variety our jobs offered every day.
It is easy to hold a conversation once you have found common ground. Asking good questions and then adding your own similar thoughts into the conversation related to an area you understand, is one of the easiest ways to get to know someone.
TYPES OF QUESTIONS TO ASK
Here is a short list of do's and don'ts for asking questions.
* Don't ask questions that will put the other person immediately on the defensive. An example is, "Did your mother pick that outfit out for you?" or, "Do you always talk like that?"
* Don't ask questions that are personal unless you know them really well or they have already brought you into their personal life.
* Don't ask questions about yourself. This could make people very uncomfortable. Examples would be, "Do you like me?" or, "Why doesn't anyone like me?" or, "I like football. Do you like football?" This last one makes it sound that if the person you ask doesn't like football then you won't like them.
* Don't ask demanding questions. For example, "Why won't you go with me?" or, "Aren't you going to help?" or, "Is there a reason for...?"
* Don't ask off the wall or unrelated questions. Don't ask a question just for the sake of saying something. It will come across that way and make the rest of the conversation awkward.
* Don't just disagree with someone's answer. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. Just ask questions.
* Learn to laugh at yourself. One of the best ways to put someone at ease is to respond with a personal antidote that puts yourself in a negative light. Making a joke of it, will cause people to realize that you are at ease with yourself. You will find that in many cases they will respond with their own antidote. Be careful about making it too personal--there is such a thing as too much and inappropriate information.
* Ask questions that show you are interested in who they are and what they do. Here is an example, "Is that a wedding ring? Awesome! How long have you been married? Really? Have any kids? Do you have any pictures of them?"
* Ask questions that lead to more specific questions. Using the example in the last point, if you would have started the conversation with, "Can I see some pictures of your children?" without first leading to it with obvious questions, you might get a weird look. Start out with what is obvious.
* Learn to ask for help or advice. Most people like to feel useful. If you are comfortable with your own ignorance and just want a bit of advice, ask. For example. "Man, I know nothing about cars. But maybe you can tell me why it does this?" After you get your answer, you can ask, "Wow! Where did you learn all that?" The answer will tell you a lot about that person and help you with relating to him in some manner.
Take the time to study the procedure and practice it. Again, if you mess up, make a joke about it. Soon you will be talking to anyone about anything.
Greg S. Baker is a Pastor, Counselor, and Author specializing in building and strengthening relationships.
For more books and resources on how to communicate better, express yourself, and strengthen social skills. Check out our book, 'Fitly Spoken', a Christian based book that explores the intricacies of human communication and expression in relationships.