One of the things that many students ask is: how do I start a conversation with other people?
Many of us need to build relationships at work and we're often told the best way is to start talking with the people we want to get to know better. Sounds easy enough but for some people their communication style may be more reserved and quiet.
Add English language or any other language as a 2nd language into the conversation and the task of talking to people gets harder.
Another block that may prevent us from talking to people we don't know (even at work) is our cultural barriers.
Many students ask this same question... how can I start a conversation with someone I don't know?
The good news is there are some easy answers and steps that you can learn and practice to start communicating better with the people around you!
These are some of the steps I recommend and practice with my students:
Do your homework first!
Find out more about the person or people you want to get to know. Check out their social media links, LinkedIn is a great place for professional information. Look for jobs the person has had in the past, companies they may have worked for, check out the groups they follow and any articles they write, like or re-post.
What we're looking for is something that you may have in common, jobs (current and past), companies you've worked for, schools attended, and hobbies if any.
You can also check other social media groups or even your companies intranet or internal social media link if they have some.
Take a real interest in other people
Ask open ended questions, instead of asking someone how was your weekend you should ask them: what did you do on the weekend? Asking how was your weekend will usually get a one word answer (fine, boring, okay), but asking what did you do on the weekend opens the opportunity for a short conversation.
With an open ended question we're looking for something we may have in common with the other person. They may talk about going hiking, playing sports, watching a movie, riding their bike, cooking or many many more answers.
When the other person mentions something that you also like then ask a follow-up question like: where did you go hiking or what sports do you like, what types of movies to you like, where did you go bike riding at, what types of food do you like to cook... I think you get the idea... always look for something you have in common and ask follow-up questions!
Listen more than talk
We often hear this statement, many of us feel that a conversation with someone means we should talk a lot. But in reality we don't want to scare or bore the other person, so talk less and listen more.
People like to talk about themselves so asking followup questions by saying things like: that sounds really interesting... can you tell me more? This question works really good at networking events too!
Look for common ground
Looking for commonality or topics you may share an interest in is the best way to connect with other people.
Check the environment, meaning if you're at a bus stop you could ask someone what bus they are waiting for or where they are going and you could even talk about the weather.
At work you can check fashion, or pictures they may have on their desk: family, pets, or travel is what you'll usually find there.
At networking events don't ask the same questions that everyone asks like: what does your company do or what do you do? If there's other people talking in a group you can stand near them and listen to what they are talking about. You don't have to be an expert in the topic to join in the discuss. You can enter the discussion by saying: that sounds really interesting... can you tell me more?
And the last thing is to "follow-up"
What I mean by "follow-up" is the next time you see the person ask a follow up question like: did you go hiking last weekend, ride your bike, do some more cooking, etc.
I think you get the idea!
The main thing about starting a conversation is to do some homework or research first, look for anything you may have in common with the other person and use that as an ice-breaker to start a conversation which can then be used to start to build a relationship with that person.
Small steps, always small steps! Great conversations and great relationships do not happen overnight. Ask polite questions, we don't want the other person to feel like you're interrogating them so only ask one or two questions each time you talk with them.
Use these ideas to connect with colleagues, co-workers, reports, team members, managers... anyone you want to get to know or just have a polite conversation with!
Listen more and talk less to show a real interest in the other person.