When networking over the festive period you may try you try to think of a good topic for conversation when meeting someone new–something engaging and stimulating. But with noting coming to mind you you start talking about the weather! As someone with emotional intelligence, you know this isn’t the way to go. Instead of spending your time chatting about meaningless topics, you want to build strong connections and rapport with those people you meet.
So how do you ditch the small talk and start engaging in smart conversation – the type that helps you better understand how others think, feel, and behave, and that helps you build stronger relationships with those people you spend time with?
Here, you can take a lesson from Dale Carnegie: Be the most interesting person in the room
In the classic book How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie relates the time he met a distinguished botanist at a dinner party.
Throughout the evening, Carnegie writes, he sat at the edge of his chair, fascinated by the man’s stories of exotic plants and garden experiments. Carnegie kept him engaged with questions about his own gardening problems and expressed appreciation for his help. When it came time to leave, the botanist turned to the host of the dinner party and praised Carnegie as a “most interesting conversationalist.”
This story illustrates a key point to building respect and influence: For others to be interested in what you have to say, you have to be interested in them, first. How do you do that, exactly?
When you treat others as interesting, you ask questions out of curiosity.
- Where are you from?
- Where have you been?
- Where would you like to go?
- What interests you?
- What’s your hidden talent?
- What would you like to learn?
“If you aspire to be a good conversationalist,” says Carnegie, “be an attentive listener. … Remember that the people you are talking to are a hundred times more interested in themselves and their wants and problems than they are in you and your problems.”
Carnegie’s advice is even more relevant today. Just look around the next time you’re at a restaurant, and notice how many people are looking at their phones instead of speaking with, and listening to, each other.
In contrast, when you ditch the small talk and treat your conversation partner as the most interesting person in the room – being curious to hear their thoughts and opinions – you stand out as different.
When you try to understand why another person thinks and feels the way they do, they become naturally intrigued about you. As a by-product, they’re more interested in you and more open to hear and consider your thoughts and opinions.