Tuesday, August 9, 2011

I'm Shy. What Do I Say Next?

Most people see conversation as the search for overlap in the Venn Diagram of their realities.

"How are you?"  "What do you do?"  "What are you studying?" 
and then, for many people -- the awkward silence.

Here's what to do:  Listen carefully to the answer to your first question, and then follow up with a related question.

- What program are you in? [first question]
- Computer Science
- How did you get interested in that? [second question]
- My dad was an engineer.
- Really?  So you were forced to learn math before you could walk?  What was it like growing up in a family like that? [deeper question]

It sounds easy, but it's not.  In my classes, students introduce one another to the class as a public speaking exercise.  Each student has a chance to ask another student a question based on the information in the introduction.  They are told in advance which one of them will ask the next question.  Every class there are several who cannot come up with any question at all.  They may be shy or nervous.  Maybe they weren't listening.

A conversation depends on getting to the first question and then the second.  A conversation involves being open-hearted and genuinely interested in the other person.  Conversations with new people do not have to start with "What do you do?" or "Come here often?"  Try something else.  Here's some suggestions.

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