Have you ever met a friend or relative you have not seen for a while, and in less than three minutes, he or she has asked you where you are currently, what you are doing, how long you’ve been doing it, where each of your siblings are and what they are doing? I don’t know about you but I see that around a lot. That is definitely not the best way to carry on a nice conversation. In fact, instead of you feeling good to see such a person again, you tend to feel so uncomfortable.
Well, for people who have a lot to share about their achievements, it may be the opportunity they need to blow their own trumpets, after all, they were asked. However, most people wouldn’t like answering all those questions about their lives. Of course, the people asking the questions create the impression of simply being ‘interested’ in your welfare, but in most cases, they simply want to compare your life with theirs. If you are not as accomplished as they are, then get ready for the next phase- they will start to answer all those questions about themselves without you asking. If that happens, then believe me, they just want a psychological satisfaction of being better than someone else.
Now, not all the people who ask such questions have that intention, but it just tells you that it is not the best way to carry on a conversation. Of course, there can be an exception when we are talking about two people who have been quite cordial in the past and who trust each other; then they wouldn’t be suspicious about sharing their information.
Some people would even ask you the same question they asked you last week and the week before. It’s a clear indication that they were not listening in the first place. All of these and several others are things to avoid in conversations. So what exactly should you do in a conversation? Let’s check out a few points:
1. Exchange pleasantries: whether you are meeting someone for the first time, you are meeting an old friend or it’s simply someone you see every day, the first thing you do is to exchange pleasantries. I don’t want to sound legalistic so I won’t go into details of what you should say. Since a conversation is an art, it is dynamic. So, leave room for flexibility. If you are meeting an individual for the first time, the pleasantries should be formal (depending on the nature of relationship you hope to have with him/her), at least until you consider each other familiar enough to be semi-formal or informal. You will do more of introducing yourselves; you do this so as to find a common ground for your communication. The more things you have in common the better.
2. Addressing each other: it is wise that you are cautious in the way you address your partner. If you are meeting each other for the first time, you may want to address him/her formally until you are given the permission to use the first name. Don’t assume that he/she wouldn’t mind being called by name, it can be costly. Although this rule may not strictly apply to someone you see every day (since you would have already established a pattern of communication), it may apply to people you haven’t seen in a long while, no matter how close you were. If for instance they are now married, you may try addressing them formally at first. Here’s the trick, jokingly address them formally and watch their reactions. If they tell you to drop the formalities or they jokingly use it in return for you, you are on safe ground; you can drop it after the initial pleasantries. However, if they are the first to address you formally and you don’t detect any form of humour, or if you use formalities and they seem to like it, you better stick with it.
3. Catch up on old times: of course, this only applies to old friends or relatives. Don’t start by asking questions about what they are up to now. Simply return to the last experience you had together (which I hope was pleasant. In case it was not, please avoid it). After sharing memories of old fun times, you would have settled into a comfortable friendship. Now is the time to talk about what has happened between the last time you saw them and now. Remember, don’t pry; whatever information they are not willing to give should be left alone. Once you notice that anytime you ask about something, they change the topic, you, as a conversationist, should realize that it is not a comfortable zone. And since conversation is all about comfort, you will do well to drop the topic.
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