“All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make, the better.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson
Yesterday, we talked about Double Opt-In Introductions. Today, we will talk about how to improve your conversations through experimentation.
During my college days, I struggled to talk to people. I knew for sure I had a defect that prevented me from having great conversations. I used to tell my dad, “I can’t have conversations with people. The words never come out right. I must be an idiot.”
My dad replied, “No, there’s nothing wrong with you, you aren’t an idiot. You have the potential to converse with anyone. You just need to practice and stop judging yourself if the conversation doesn’t work.”
I thought to myself, “Well, he’s just saying that. I probably won’t ever become a great conversationalist.”
Six years later, I’ve interviewed authors, venture capitalists, CEOs, billionaires, and academics in front of hundreds of my colleagues. So, how did I drastically improve my conversational ability?
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, saying 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.
Behind Frank’s polished exterior is a person who has blundered numerous times during a conversation. The best fail all the time, but 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: initial conversation openers, listening, questions, answers, exiting a conversation, trading information, 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.
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 such as, “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. Here are a few more ideas:
• Speak to someone when you’re in line at the grocery store.
• 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.
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 Network 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.
Tomorrow, we’re going to learn how to attract people to you via the People Funnel.
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