Do you ever find yourself in a situation where conversations just don’t happen, or if they do they quickly dry up? It might be during a networking event, or that uneasy silence that may occur when people are joining each other for the first time on a course or for a meeting. It may even be at a social event (e.g. a wedding) where you are seated next to people that you don’t know. It can become quite awkward as no-one is choosing to, or feels able to, engage with those around them. But there is no need for you to feel or behave like this. There is a straightforward technique that can be used whereby you can take the lead, and engage well with those around you.
It’s so very simple. All you need to do is ask questions. And a good way to phrase these questions is to use a style that enables the person you are speaking with to give you an ‘open’ reply, as opposed to a ‘closed’ single word (‘yes’ or ‘no’) answer. This ‘open’ questioning technique can be particularly powerful and involves using words such as ‘how’, ‘what’ or ‘why’. Another style that can work well in these scenarios would be a sentence that starts with, ‘Tell me more about…’
This questioning technique is good for starting conversations, developing rapport and finding out about others. It also helps ensure that you don’t commit the sin of talking too much about yourself (or if you do, it’s only once the other person has talked about themselves for a while).
So here is an example. You are sitting in a meeting room and other attendees are just arriving. You don’t know anyone who is coming in, and one of them sits next to yourself. OK – no need to panic. Allow them to settle, and then, simply introduce yourself.
‘Good morning, I’m John from Smith & Co. What’s your name?’
‘Hi, I’m Mark’
‘Hi Mark. So what is it that you do?’
‘I am in the health and safety division’
‘Brilliant. How long have you been working there?’
‘Over, 10 years. I have been involved with a few projects such as this one’
‘Excellent. So what do you feel are the main health and safety challenges for this project?’
and so on…
The important thing to remember is, that as soon as you see an opportunity to adopt this technique, then just go for it. Don’t leave it too long to engage or it will become awkward. And for goodness sake don’t wait for the other person to make that first move. They are possibly as unsettled about the situation as you are, and almost certainly; they won’t have read this post. The more you ask, the less you need to speak about yourself, and the more time you can spend listening to the other person. And who knows, you might just find out something interesting or useful. Resist the temptation to talk about yourself – after all you already know all about you – and you won’t learn anything new if you do all the talking. After a while, however, if the other person has any level of self-awareness, they will begin to ask you questions. It would be rude of them not to. Quickly answer their questions and whilst doing so look for opportunities to ask them more.