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Sorry of the title of this post faked you out – I’m really going to write about having better conversations. I explored how to form deeper connections with people in a previous post. Now I’d like to teach you a bit about being a better (conversational) dancer.
Achim Nowack is the author of Infectious: How to Connect Deeply and Unleash the Energetic Leader Within. His book outlines the principles of connection and how to connect with the energy of people we know and care about – or people we have just met.
Chapter Two is titled “Language is an Aphrodisiac.” He writes: “Each conversation is a dance that we discover as it unfolds, with its own rhythm, flavor, flow. The pleasure we and our partners derive from this dance will depend in no small measure on how well we improvise, moment by moment, phrase by phrase, instinct by instinct. And yes— on how well we talk!”
Anthony Robbins has said: “People with rich vocabularies have a multihued palette of colors with which to paint their life’s experience, not only for others, but for themselves, as well.” That sounds like something everyone wants for themselves. I know I do. Here’s how to improve your conversation.
Every dance begins with an invitation, and Nowack says invitational language is a great way to start better conversations. Most people, he writes, start with “procedural” language. “Hi – I’m Joe. I’m here today to…” Getting right down to business skips a step that matters to our dance partner: letting them know you are excited to partner them.
“Thanks so much for meeting with me today.” “I’m so excited to be speaking with you.” “I’ve been looking forward to this conversation.” Simple phrases, but these emotional words have an immediate impact. They open up your conversation partner and make her feel valued.
Nowack recommends using emotional cues regularly throughout your conversation. “That’s a great observation.” “I never thought of it that way before.” “You really made me think.” If this language feels foreign to you, you’re not alone. It takes practice and time to develop the habit, but the investment is worth it. Your conversations will be richer and more interesting when you make your partner feel interesting and valued.
Great dancers are focused on their partner, watching for and responding to small cues that indicate a change in direction or tempo of the movement. Great conversationalists do the same. Nowack writes: “When someone throws out a cue that is unexpected or surprising— notice it.” He calls that action “the art of true interest,” and says that very few people practice it.
Part of the art of true interest is asking the right questions. Nowack says that “what” and “how” questions invite clarification. They yield details. “What” and “how” questions are easy questions that are not intrusive. The other person remains fully in charge of just what he reveals. Better yet, he says, are “why” questions, which go beneath the surface of the conversational cue to learn more about the person you’re speaking with. “Why” is a question about values, beliefs, and intentions. It signals that you care about getting to know someone better. It signals that you see them and that they matter.
Everyone is interesting if you know how to look below the surface. Author Mark Manson once said, “Every new conversation, every new relationship, brings new challenges and opportunities for honest expression.” Employ some of these tips and enjoy the dance.