What subject do you know more about than anyone else in the entire world? Yourself, of course. No one else knows everything you’ve been through, what you think or how you feel at any given moment. They don’t know all your likes and dislikes. They don’t know about your past, your present or your future hopes and dreams. Nor do they know about all the experiences you’ve had, the things you’ve overcome during your lifetime. Those are some of the things that uniquely make you you and those same things – and more – make everyone you meet unique and interesting too.
So, if you ever find yourself unsure about what to say when you meet someone new, simply focus on them. In Dale Carnegie’s words, “be a good listener and encourage others to talk about themselves.” When they share things they love or enjoy they’ll feel good as they talk and they’ll associate those good feelings with you. That’s a winning formula for making friends and influencing people.
You might be reading this and be thinking to yourself, “But I’m not good with small talk.” No worries because I have several questions to help get you started. These questions will be easy for anyone to answer, should not be sensitive and will help the conversation flow naturally. The key after asking questions is to pay attention for things you have in common, or areas of interest, so you can make a connection with the person. The more they see themselves in you the more they will like you.
So, in no particular order here are several questions you can use as conversation starters to encourage others to talk about themselves.
Where do you live? Even if someone lives in the same city as you there are suburbs and neighborhoods that differentiate parts of town. Asking about this can help you connect because you might currently live in the same area or have friends or family that do.
Tell me about your family? Notice I didn’t ask, “Are you married?” or “Do you have any kids?” Both of those questions can be sensitive for people who want to be married or would like to have kids but don’t currently. Asking about family opens them up to talk about parents, siblings or other relatives. If they are married or have kids it’s likely they’ll talk about that.
Where are you originally from? This can be really interesting. For example, I was born in Hawaii. I didn’t live there very long but when it comes up it always sparks interest. Because I went back on my honeymoon then again 20 years later I can talk somewhat about the islands and people find that interesting because most have not been there.
Do you like to travel? This is a natural follow up to “Where are you originally from?” Someone may not have been born in a place you find interesting but that doesn’t stop them from visiting interesting places. When they relate having been to Europe, Australia, China or some other location they will probably recall a good time…and begin associating the good feelings with you.
What do you do for a living? It’s unfortunate that polls tell us most people don’t enjoy their jobs but still, when you spend 40 hours or more at work it is significant enough to warrant conversation. Quite often what seems to be mundane to them might be very interesting to you. And, when you don’t happen to know a lot about their line of work and ask questions they get to feel like an expert.
What sports or hobbies do you enjoy? This one is a big one for most people, especially in America. Many fans are literally fanatical about their teams. My wife Jane is a great example. She’s a Steelers fan through and through. Every Sunday she makes her favorite dip for her chips and has a Diet Coke. If it happens that the Steelers are not on a local station then we’re off to a sports bar so she can watch them play. And yes, she wears the jersey or other team related items to let the world know she’s a Steelers fan. You can’t go wrong by asking her about the team and so it is with other people.
Some people don’t like to watch, they want to participate so it’s good to ask about hobbies. When people hang glide, sky dive, water ski, golf or do any number of other activities it’s because they’re passionate about it. Ask them and they relive a little passion and that’s good for you.
So there you have it, another solid tip to help you make friends and influence people. Like any advice, it will only have a positive effect if you actually do it. I challenge you this week to ask a lot of questions then sit back and “be a good listener and encourage others to talk about themselves.” Do this and you’ll see a positive response coming your way.
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes!”