Monday, May 08, 2006


One of the oldest, most commonly used, and perhaps hardest to master of all social skills.

Funny isn't it, that as important as it is, nobody taught us conversation skills nor have we had any lessons to hone them, so except for the few truly talented ones, most of us are consigned to a good many years of trial and error, frustration, mis-understandings and just sheer hair-ripping, eyeball-popping, head-pounding frustration.

Then there are some who are not blessed (or cursed) with thick, bullet-proof skin, like yours truly, and they become painfully withdrawn in the presence of strangers and the rare occasions that they do venture out of their self-imposed shell, they end up rushing back in at the first sign of trouble.

Talking to some friends over the weekend and for the last week, I am reminded of a few guidelines when it comes to talking that I read somewhere off a book and thought was really useful, especially when striking a conversation up with a stranger in any environment. In case you're wondering, yes, they have been field tested by moi. And they have worked out pretty well, frankly.

1. Since 70% of human communication is body language, 23% is how you say something, and most first impressions are formed in the first 30 seconds of interaction, a bright smile, a firm handshake, and a big "hello" is like a sledgehammer when it comes to breaking ice. If this is not natural, PRACTICE. If that means standing in front of the mirror, looking absurd for 15 minutes a day, do it. Just make sure the room door is closed. There's something to be said for the KISS rule. In case you're wondering, KISS = Keep It Simple, Stupid.

2. Wear something interesting that people can hook onto and comment on. Likewise look for something interesting in the other person to comment on. It can be something as simple as a cap, or a pin, or a necklace, or SOMETHING. Look, cut the other person some slack. The poor sod is probably as nervous as you.

3. Remember the person's name. Trust me on this one, if you find it difficult to remember, quickly give the person a cute nickname. Think about it, when somebody calls your name, how do YOU feel? The person's name is possibly the most important sound that's coming out of your mouth.

4. LISTEN. Too many people don't listen well nowadays. So much so, that people are paying psychs an obscene amount of money, just to have someone to talk to. If you don't know how to listen, learn. I suck at this. So I'm still learning.

5. Hey, what's an entry without a little controversy right? I'm gonna tell ya one of the worst habits of conversation that people use ALL THE FREAKING TIME. And frankly this is a conversation killer bar none, especially when strangers meet for the first time. So gentle readers, never, Never, NEVER, EVER ask someone, "So what do you work as?" or anything to that effect in the first half hour of conversation.

Pick your jaws off the floor, and let me explain this to you, dear confused ones. Think back to all the times that you have mentioned that dreaded statement.

"So what is it that you do?" "XXX"
"Where do you stay?" "YYY"
"Where do ya study?" "ZZZ"

That's pretty much it isn't it? These questions are a veritable conversational dead end. That and it makes the mind lazy. And it doesn't do much to endear you to the other person or keep the conversation going right?

So find something else to talk about, heck, if you have to prep a few open ended questions to ask, do so. Once things have started, it'll be a lot easier to keep things going. And if someone asks ya those questions, for the heck of it, find a interesting riposte. Can't find anything, for a small fee, I'll come up with a coupla things for ya.

Try it, and see what happens.

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