For those that know me, you know that a face-to-face conversation can be paralyzing for me.It’s not that I don’t find people interesting or enjoyable, that’s not it at all. In my case, I would be overwhelmed by “what-ifs” and “maybes” before I’ve even begun. I would catastrophize and worry, fret and fear. I’d run myself in circles mentally until the person would leave. At one point, I couldn’t even manage to leave my house to get groceries without extreme panic. I’m not saying I’m cured, but I could spend a few hours, heck even a day, with a group of people and not run away screaming or break down in tears. That’s an accomplishment. Not only that, but now I run a business. A successful business. Where I have to talk to people all the time. I bet you’re wondering how I managed it. I didn’t overcome this overnight. It wasn’t easy. Though the techniques I used made it possible to, over time, recondition this response. They are:
- Don’t Run Away Screaming. (AKA: Smile and Make Eye Contact.)
- Say Hello.
- Offer a Compliment or Observation.
- Ask Open Ended Questions.
- Listen and Respond.
Don’t Run Away Screaming.
(AKA: Smile and Make Eye Contact.)
Look, I know how this sounds. It’s easy, right? For me it wasn’t. For some of you out there, it might not be. As I was learning this process, I was memorizing my steps. The very first of which was “don’t run away screaming.” I had to tell myself not to run away. Then, once I had convinced myself of this, I had to smile and make eye contact. When I was first starting out on my journey, I resolved to go out everyday and just do this one little thing. (That felt like a mountain, but, you know…) After repeating this process time and again, eventually it almost became natural. Now, there was only a 5 or 10 second pause while I worked up the courage.
Say Hello.Though just being able to look at someone and smile at them, doesn’t cut it. I can’t go shopping like that. I can’t work for a living or be happy. It’s not enough of an existence. Next, I had to learn how to say hello. I’d spot someone new, in a coffee shop or library, I reminded myself not to run, smile, make eye contact and just say “hello”. I wish I could express the profound impact of this exercise. Do you know what most people do when someone approaches them, smiles, and says hello?
They smile and say hello back. Almost without fail. Now for me, time would nearly slow down. This was something that used to be beyond imaginable and utterly terrifying. When I would do this, it would be in slow motion. I saw so much beauty in these moments. I was sharing a small part of myself, and tiny expression of outreach. In return, I was gifted with their smiles and warmth, and a glimpse of time where our time and space connected. I cherished these moments. They helped build me up for my next step.
Offer a Compliment or Observation.My favorite step, two-fold. It takes a moment or two of focusing your mind and your powers of observation to find something to comment on. While you are focusing, it’s much harder to be concerned over what the person might say. You have to be concerned with what you are going to say instead. I do enjoy anything that buys me a moment or two to think. That’s not all, I also enjoy giving compliments. Such small things, and when heartfelt, are profoundly impactful. I feel deeply. I’m empathic. It’s a thing. When I feel, I do so deeply. When I find something to compliment someone on, it’s heartfelt, and it’s my way of saying that I appreciate their efforts in that area and in their effect on that moment. Being kind and genuine is free. It costs me nothing. Therefore, it’s my pleasure to distribute it freely. Plus, it warms the other person up for the next step.
Ask Open Ended Questions.The question is irrelevant, as long as the answer is required to be more than a yes or a no to make sense.
Let me give you two examples. Close ended question: “Do you like ice cream?” Answer: “Yes.” Does that sound like a one-word answer is a logical response? Then it’s closed. You’re not going to start a conversation with this crap. Open ended question: “What’s your favorite way to eat ice cream?” Answer: “Yes.” Does that sound like a one-word answer is a logical response? Heck no. You’re urging the other person to need to search for more than an autonomic monosyllabic response. Therefore, once I would provide my compliment or observation, I would then proceed to ask an open ended question about that thing. Words are happening! People are talking! This is almost an acceptable conversation. Just one thing left.
Listen and Respond.With all the excitement, it was important to remind myself that I still had a part to play. I can’t leave this individual hanging in conversation limbo. People prefer when you also reply to them, showing that you’ve listened and understood. During the time that the individual is making a response, I am focused on listening and retaining information. This helps keep my worrisome mind from running away, and me with it. It also makes me an enjoyable person to have a conversation with, because I actually listen. Did I mention people like that? When it comes time for me to respond, I usually have more than enough information to formulate something, even if it’s a minimal WOW or OOOH! As I got better at it, I was able to offer much better responses. I was even able to ask another open ended question in some cases. Imagine that!
Rinse and Repeat as Needed.What’s even cooler is that once you reach the end, you just rinse and repeat. You can have more conversation with that one person, or move on and repeat the process with a different person. The combination possibilities are endless. In case I haven’t made this clear enough, it took me a long time to develop this process. It’s near and dear to my heart. You know what though? I’m feeling generous, so you can use my techniques too. Embrace them and make them yours. You could even tell me about it and then WE would have a conversation. How insane is that? There you have it folks. Sacha’s tried and true (and frequently used) steps to starting a conversation. Happy chatting!
AWESOME. I enjoyed writing it. I don’t get my write on as much as I used to, but here are a few others I penned.