Ten Lessons from 2012 – Five: “Questions bring Meaningful Conversations.”

Have you ever been lost for what to say in a conversation with someone new?

That happened to me more than I’d care to remember.  Small talk just never was something I very much enjoyed.  Over the last several years in college it became a goal of mine to find ways to strengthen that weakness.  In every career, the ability to make effortless conversation with strangers is a major advantage.

The first thing I realized was that much of my dislike for small talk came from the fact that I generally am oriented around big ideas.  Small talk is usually boring, filled with routine niceties that aren’t very stimulating or engaging.  There is no passion behind the veil of small talk.  In that regard it always felt insincere and manufactured to me.

I started by changing the way I think about small talk.  Small talk is necessary.  These boring conversations are “friendly noises” that are necessary to swim to more of the meaningful topics and interests that are behind each person.

The quickest way to get through the sea of small talk is by asking interesting and meaningful questions.  Let the other person drive the conversation in the direction of their passions and interests.  Everyone loves to talk about the things they love.  It is like giving a person gold to give them time in which you listen carefully to the things that are of great interest to them.  You will also find more often than not that you are captivated by the things that sincerely interest other people.

A came across a Neil Gaiman quote that really stimulated the way that I think about my conversations with strangers.

“Everybody has a secret world inside of them. All of the people of the world, I mean everybody. No matter how dull and boring they are on the outside, inside them they’ve all got unimaginable, magnificent, wonderful, stupid, amazing worlds. Not just one world. Hundreds of them. Thousands maybe.”

In discovering what someone is interested in, ask meaningful questions in order to explore the “secret worlds” inside of the person.  Very quickly they may reciprocate and ask your own opinion.  Suddenly small talk has evaporated and meaningful memorable conversations arise.

I have had some of the best discussions of my life with virtual strangers through this method.  It is pretty incredible that when you put aside your desire to only talk about yourself or your own interests and begin asking questions and listening to other people what incredible wealth people will bring into your life.

Naturally, we are all opinionated people, and it is more likely than not that in any conversation topic you can bring your own opinions and experiences so that the conversation is not just an interrogation but much more of a discussion.

This valuable insight – incredibly easy to implement – has changed the way that I approach conversations and made me see every conversation with someone new as an opportunity to enrich my life with the passions and interests of other engaged thoughtful human beings.