“All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make, the better.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson
Yesterday, we learned about ending our news addiction. Today, we will learn about conversation experiments. This lesson was featured in “Building a Network for Success” because it’s critical for building a network and developing your conversational skills. I’ve since updated and expanded it.
A System to Discover Your Conversational Style
We all know Frank. He can talk effortlessly to any random stranger. You see Frank genuinely listening during a conversation, making the right jokes, and asking the right questions. He appears to be a godlike conversation machine. So, you tell yourself, “My goal is to copy Frank’s conversation style.” You spend your time emulating him, copying how he speaks to other people, and … you fail.
Why did your plan fail? Because Frank’s conversation style is based on his personal experiences tailored to his unique thought process, while you are trying to replicate something without truly understanding the motivations behind Frank’s style.
Success Is Only the Tip of the Iceberg
Behind Frank’s polished exterior is a person who has blundered numerous times during a conversation. The best fail all the time, and Frank understands that even when one conversation fails, he meets his goal of having one more conversation with one more new person. With each interaction, Frank accumulates data on what works and what doesn’t and uses that data to improve. Frank’s goal is never to have a perfect conversation. It’s to have more conversations, since each conversation is a learning experience, not something to win.
Before each conversation, Frank decides what he wants to practice: a tool from the Listener’s Toolbox, conversation hooks, questions, answers, how to exit a conversation, etc. Each conversation Frank has is a form of deliberate practice, a method of breaking down a skill into small, specific chunks and honing each aspect through repeated practice.
Deliberate practice can increase Frank’s performance in any skill, as proven in the book, Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise, by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool. Most importantly, deliberate practice must be conducted outside of Frank’s comfort zone. For instance, if Frank wants to become a better conversationalist, he must talk to people he doesn’t know. This will lead to failure, but through failure, he can review his errors and improve conversations.
Getting Past Social Pain
Unfortunately, some of us are too scared about the pain of rejection. And for good reason: The same part of the brain that recognizes physical pain becomes active when we face social rejection. But the same part of our brain that recognizes pleasure becomes active when we make a social bond. So, our fear of social pain prevents us from reaching the joy of making a new connection. How can we overcome this fear?
How to Follow in Frank’s Footsteps
For those trying to follow in Frank’s footsteps, I recommend holding yourself accountable for practice by setting up a rule like, “Every time I’m in line, I will try to make conversation with the person next to me.” These are low-risk conversations—nothing bad will happen to you if you fail. In time, you will be able to start having more difficult conversations. You might never be like Frank, but you will dramatically improve your current skills.
The best way to learn is to reflect on each experience. Once the conversation is over, try to answer the following questions: Did it go smoothly? Did you spend enough time listening? Do you remember what the other person said? What could you improve?
To accelerate your improvement, make sure to write down your conversations in the Conversation Journal. We all have that inner voice that criticizes us for failing or prevents us from taking the risk of talking to someone new. Once you begin to recognize that voice, you can lessen its hold on your actions. Remember that this thought is just a thought, and you can choose to either listen to it or ignore it.
Once you start realizing that each conversation is a learning experience, you become relaxed and less judgmental toward yourself during conversations.
1. Set up a routine to trigger yourself to begin a conversation for deliberate practice. Try creating your own or using the ones below:
• Speak to someone when you’re in line at the grocery store.
• When you walk down the hall at work or school, talk to one new person.
• Ask the cafeteria staff how their day is going.
• If you see someone wearing a shirt with your favorite band or movie on it, speak to them.
2. Once the conversation is over, reflect on how it went. Did it go smoothly? Did you spend enough time listening? Do you remember what the other person said? What could you improve?
3. Make sure to write down your routine and track how many people you speak to in your Conversation Journal.
Tomorrow, we will learn how to identify conversation hooks that make connecting with others easier.
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