Modern Etiquette: When striking up conversation, it's not about you

Mon Oct 28, 2013 5:51am EDT
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By Mary M. Mitchell

LONDON (Reuters) - Colleagues and friends ask me all the time, "What do I say to people when I meet them for the first time?"

Behind the question lies the real uncertainty: "What can I say to engage them, so they think I'm interesting to talk to, so that they like me?" Notice all the "I's" in those sentences. That's a big clue.

If you want to be truly interesting to your conversational partners, be interested in them. If you really think about it, the people you consider artful conversationalists are most likely wonderful listeners.

They know how to take their egos out of what is being said, how to be present, and how to be genuinely interested in the other person.

Most of us feel awkward making conversation, because, while we're supposed to be paying attention to the other person, we're actually thinking about what to say next.

And at the same time, we are giving ourselves a lot of negative self-talk that might sound like, "I haven't a clue what to say here. She/he must think I'm really stupid."

Imagine that you could focus a movie camera on yourself. You can take this to the bank - when that lens is trained on you, you're bound to be a conversational dud.

On the other hand, turn that camera onto the other person and watch what happens. The gift of your time and attention showered on him or her will make the other person blossom, I guarantee it.   Continued...