We have all had the conversation. We bump into someone. Someone we have not seen for a while. We ask "So, what's new?" "Nothing" they answer, "What's new with you?" The conversation is dead before it even got started. "See ya around..." we each say as we go our separate ways. But it does not need to be that way. In fact, it should never be that way. Even when you do not particularly want to have a long conversation, you should be able to converse meaningfully in a concise way. Conversation skills are something you should practice daily. After all, you never know when you will need to employ your skills. Last week I found myself sitting on a couch in the Good Morning America green room next to a very distinguished looking gentleman. Luckily, my conversation know-how was at the ready.
Speak First ~ Being shy and coy may work in the movies, but in real life your reticence can be a big hindrance. Have an open ended question to start the conversation. Examples include: What brings you here? How do you know ---?
Be Curious ~ Think of yourself as an investigative journalist. Ask inquisitive questions. Consider this as an opportunity to learn something new. Remember there is a difference between conversations and interrogations.
Listen Well ~ Sometimes the best conversationalists are the best listeners. Instead of trying to think of the next thing you are going to say, really listen to what the other person is saying. Be active, mirror eye contact, nod your head and encourage the person to continue with "um-hum"s.
Be Interesting ~ You should be prepared to speak about you. Before you leave your home, you should always have a real answer for "what's new?" Keep it positive. Have you been somewhere lately (vacation or restaurant)? Have you read a good book, seen a good movie, or gone to a concert?
Maintain Mystery ~ While people do want to hear about what is new in your life, they need not know the gruesome details. Polite conversation should be kept at a high level. Save the particulars for those closest to you.
End on a High ~ Quick conversations ideally take anywhere from 2 - 8 minutes. Do not let them drag. Before the talk becomes tired, let the person know how great it was to see him/her, wish him/her well and be on your way.
Stay Connected ~ If this is someone with whom you would like to have a longer conversation, make sure you have his/her contact information so you can arrange for an official get together.
"Hello, what brings you here this morning?" I asked the distinguished gentleman as I introduced myself. He explained that he was the FBI expert on torture with terror suspects. My curiosity piqued, I asked if he was for or against torture. With the "flexibility" of the Geneva Convention being debated by the administration in the media, I braced myself for his answer. The best, most reliable and useful information, he said, came when the terrorist was treated well. Apparently, good manners was the only thing the terrorist were not trained by their brainwashing mentors to endure. Captured terrorists are prepared for torture. To learn that Americans actively believe in the dignity of fellow humans is apparently more powerfully persuasive than pain. The man was intriguing, the conversation flowed, and we both were able to enjoy passing the time while waiting to be called to the Good Morning America sound stage.
(Jodi's Note: Many of you did see my GMA appearance. Thank you for all of the e-mails and phone messages! For those of you who would like to see a portion of the interview, When Co-Workers Drive You Crazy, please visit the Good Morning America report Trapped in Co-Worker Hell, the video link is on the left!)