The Art Of Conversation: What Are You Passionate About?

This afternoon I was having lunch with a friend when suddenly our conversation turned to networking. We started talking (with me going into full professor mode) about what it takes to network with people and how to start a conversation. This, having been one of my greatest weaknesses in the past, has become one of my favorite topics.

For those of us who aren’t used to talking to people we don’t know (which is most of us), starting a conversation with strangers — potential networking associates — is one of the hardest things to do. The constant fear of rejection is there, and it is absolutely devastating when someone you say “Hi” to simply looks down and walks away.

Earlier on today I read an article on Lifehack.org called Conversations About Passion, in which the author explains a few ways to get over the “I’m not a conversationalist” rut in which most people put themselves. It’s really a great article on becoming a better conversationalist, especially if you’re a shy person and it’s one this particular friend, as well as you, would probably benefit from reading.

When I first started actively talking to people it wasn’t easy. In fact, sometimes I wonder how it is I never got punched. Although I was willing to talk (and usually listen, or at least wait to talk again), most of the time I didn’t know what to say. I remember one time starting a conversation with a guy at a book store. I asked him what he did and he told me: “Marketing manager for an HMO.”

My foot quickly found its way into my mouth when I half-jokingly replied “Oh, really? Wow. So, how does it feel to be the scum of the Earth?” (Because, you know, everybody thought that HMO’s were evil at that time. Or so I thought.)

“Excuse me?!” he replied, indignantly. Needless to say, this conversation didn’t go very far after this point. I hung my head, became 5-inches tall and sort of slithered away.

Still, that’s one of the worst experiences (and it’s about as bad as you’re likely to get). Some of the best ones have led to me finding some of my best friends and, in fact, the always beautiful Wife. Had I not overcome the fear of rejection I would have lost out on a number of marvelous experiences.

So now let me ask: Everybody talks to people. Most of us meet new people on a fairly regular basis. How do you start a conversation? What attracts you to a person enough that you’ll go out of your way and risk rejection just to say “hi”? Finally, if you care to share, what’s one of the most embarrassing moments you have had when attempting to make a new friend, or even when attempting to idle chit chat?