A little while ago, I wrote about how to start a conversation with someone. Starting the conversation is just a springboard; you need to keep the conversation going after that point to have a chance at a date. For some reason, keeping up a conversation is a problem for a lot of people. Guys in particular, who tend to get intimidated by attractive women, tend to go blank and get stuck in one of those awkward silences. Talking with someone really isn’t all that difficult regardless of their relative beauty.
Any decent conversation is really just a sequence of three steps:
- Listen. Don’t just wait for the talking to stop so you can say something, really hear what the other person is saying. This information is really important.
- Comment. This is where the listening pays off: make a comment about something they just said. Don’t even think about going off on a tangent until you’ve validated the other person’s topic. If you don’t acknowledge something that the other person said, you’ll indicate that you’ve not been listening and just waiting for an opportunity to soapbox rather than have an actual conversation.
- Question. Ask a question about either his/her topic or your comment. Questioning is vital to a conversation because it invites your partner to participate. Participation is vital to any conversation and the way to keep it present is to ask questions. The question doesn’t need to be anything deep, sometimes a simple question is just as effective, such as: “can you believe that?”
At any given point in the conversation, each person is at a different step in this progression: one person is commenting while the other is listening. The first person asks a question and the second moves into the commenting stage to answer while the first reverts to the listening stage. The second person then asks a question after they’re done commenting and the cycle continues.
Perhaps the most difficult part of this cycle is the questioning stage. Everyone wants to ask interesting questions, but when you get nervous, mundane and impersonal questions tend to turface, such as, “so, where are you from?” Even the most mundane question can be saved, however, with an interesting or personal follow-up question. Consider the following dialogue:
Pete: So, where are you from? [question moving into listen]
Megan: Chicago. [comment moving into question] How about you? [question moving into listen]
Pete: I’m from Orlando. So Chicago…that seems like it would be an interesting place to live. I have to say, I don’t know much about Chicago except that Michael Jordan played for the Bulls. [comment moving into question] How did you enjoy growing up there? [question moving into listen]
Pete began the conversation with an uninteresting question so he’ll likely get an equally uninteresting response. However, because he listens to Megan’s response, he’s able to follow up with a personal question that will get a more interesting response. This technique can be used with any topic in any conversation: just ask the other person to explain some feeling associated with the topic. Some common, personal and interesting followup questions are:
- Now that’s interesting, how did you get into ___________________?
- Really? __________ sounds like a lot of fun. What was it like?
- That’s really cool. How long have you been ______________?
- I enjoy doing that too! What’s your favorite place to ____________?
- It sounds like ____________ is really important to you. How’d that come about?
- I’m going to ______________ soon, do you have any advice on what to see?
The key to these questions is that they’re responding to something the other person said. It’s important to specifically mention the topic that was being discussed to indicate that you’re listening and continue the conversation. Common topics make for good conversation. Turn it into a learning opportunity, ask about the other person and about the things that interest them.
In the end, conversation isn’t that difficult, you just need to remember the basic steps. Keep in mind that the comment phase may last longer than others as you may inject personal stories or other anecdotes. If you notice the other person’s comment phase taking longer than expected, be patient and accept the opportunity to listen. A conversation is a dance where sometimes you lead and sometimes you follow. Knowing your role at the moment and knowing what’s coming next ultimately leads to being a better conversationalist and, hopefully, a better date.