Turn the Tittle-Tattle Off
Today, you’ll learn why being able to turn small talk into meaningful conversations matters so much and how to do it.
So, you already created a killer first impression and you found common ground fast and got them to like you—now what? How do you keep your likability going and the relationship moving forward? Give them money? No! Spend time with them, as you learned when we discussed the familiarity principle.
Let me warn you, though, that frequent contact between you and the other person will backfire unless you’re able to turn off the tittle-tattle (idle talk) and start having deep, meaningful conversations. A recent study about friendship conducted by Professor Hall with the University of Kansas and published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships found that small talk is the enemy of friendship—people who talk about mundane topics become less close over time.
Here are a few things you can do to turn trivial conversations into meaningful ones.
Offer Deep Answers
By opening up first, you set the example and show the other person it’s okay to be vulnerable and get personal. (But maybe don’t start with your beloved childhood pet’s trip to “that farm up north”; we’re not trying for waterworks here.)
Here’s an example. If the other person asks you, “How was your weekend?”, you could provide a boring answer (“It was okay”), a superficial answer (“It was fine, I watched the game”), or a deep answer (“I didn’t do much—I was pooped. I’m a perfectionist, you know, and last week, I worked over 60 hours. I’ve struggled with perfectionism since I was in college …”)
Provide a “Safe Zone”
True friends listen to others without judging them. They provide a “Safe Zone” where others can be themselves without fear of being judged, criticized, corrected, or controlled. Work on being aware of whether you tend to judge others or try to “fix their lives.” If so, stop it! If you want to get deeper connections through more intimate conversations, people need to feel safe around you—then they’ll open up.
For instance, if someone says, “I bite my nails when I’m nervous,” don’t say, “You shouldn’t do that!” Instead, try this: “Have you been doing that for a while?” People sense sincere curiosity and appreciate your interest.
Kill Conversation-Killing Questions
Avoid the two types of questions that kill conversations:
• Closed questions. These can be answered with just one or two words, such as, “Did you have fun this weekend?”
• Boring questions. These are the ones that most everyone else asks.
Listen to Marilyn Monroe, who said, “Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius, and it’s better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring.” Dare to be ridiculous!
Aren’t you bored of the same ol’, “How are you?” “How do you like the weather?” “How was your day?” “What’s up?” All these are open questions—but they’re boring.
Comedian Chris Colin and Journalist Rob Baedeker recommend asking for stories, not for answers. These are a few examples they offer:
• “What’s the strangest thing about where you grew up?”
• “How’d you end up in your line of work?”
• “What does your name mean? What would you like it to mean?”
• “What are you looking forward to this week?”
• “Who do you think is the luckiest person in this room?”
• “If you could teleport by blinking your eyes, where would you go right now?”
Take the time to write fun, interesting, or even ridiculous questions that will allow someone to reply with a story. Then, practice them with a friend, your partner, or a stranger. (Stay away from questions like, “And where were you on the night of the robbery?” That’s less boring but way more confrontational.)
For your likability to work for you, you don’t want to be just one of the 150 Facebook “friends” whom people have on average. You want to become their real friend and perhaps even their confidant.
Tomorrow, I’ll share with you the one principle I attribute my personal and professional success to. This principle alone has made me way more likable than I used to be. (Trust me on this—you didn’t know me before I started applying this principle.)
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