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 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?

7 thoughts on “The Art Of Conversation: What Are You Passionate About?

  1. Logic followed by action helped me overcome my fears. That action was essentially practice and thus built self-confidence.

    I read and listened a lot about this topic, and the more you konw, the more confident you feel.

    I basically talk to anyone who dresses like i should know them. Sharp. Someon who looks important essentially. Though while in conversation if i realize they are rather dimwitted, I dont follow through (now).

    Most embarresing moment….

    Ever say ‘i can help you look better’ to a girl and walk away unscathed?

  2. Yes. More times than I want to count. (It’s embarrasing, really.) Somehow, it took me a bit of time to learn that wasn’t a good thing. Also, never start off a conversation by asking “So, does your wife stay at home all day?” Never got a good reaction with that one.

    Social graces and astuteness are gifts I’ve yet to fully develop, aparently. Slowly, though. Slowly and most decidedly asuredly. By the time I’m 45 I should be as socially astute as the average 25 year old. Looking forward to that one.

  3. The average 25 year old’s social experience tends to favor partying, drinking and activities that involve a lot of arrogance.

    have fun with that.

  4. Ok, talking “real world” here, not the “high winded” (if you get my drift) tower of academia. (Also note that social astuteness and social experience are two totally different things. The former merely indicates the level of comfort at and ability to manage social situations. The later involves what a person chooses to do with the former.)

  5. you gave my head an owwie.


    (all those years in school and this is the limit of my academic prowess)

  6. I think that if I want to start a convo with someone.. they might just have to speak to me first! I am not one to go up to strangers and just start chit-chat unless I know them.. or I really want to talk to them (like if they have children my childrens age.. or If I got a question so forth).

  7. Hey, Kari! Long time, no see. Hope everything’s going good! As for conversing, I know how you feel. I used to feel the same way. The problem was that every body around me also felt the same way, so I never really got into many conversations, unless I plainly saw that we had something in common, like Dungeons and Dragons, or Linux. Then I noticed that everyone who was in life where I wanted to be would go out of their way to say “hi” to people, even when they didn’t know them. More often than not, these people had also supremely developed listening skills, something I then realized I lacked, no matter how much I believed I was a good listener.

    The truth of the matter was, however, that by waiting for someome to say “hi” to me — by being reactive — I was missing out on meeting a ton of people who were friendly, but were just waiting for someone to say “hi” to them. When I started becoming more proactive and saying “hello” to people. As I did that, more and more I started to get interested in people (and, somewhat selfishily, I’ll admit, get people interested in me). Since I started doing that, my life has been so much better, to the point where you can tell how good or bad I’m doing based on how many people I say “hi” to.

    In the end, for me, it was a matter of self-esteem: I waited for them to say “hello” because I was affraid of looking stupid if they didn’t say hello back. As it turns out, most people do respond, and usually with a smile (if I’m also smiling). You should try it out sometime, maybe making it a goal to one week say “hello” to 10 new people a day, then the next week making it a point to do that and talk to 1 or 2 of those new people a day. Then, keep this up for a month and see how many new friends you have made. Heck, this is how I finally found out that my barber had her own business, that my neighbor worked at the airport, and that some guy I met at the gym drives that big blue truck that’s always parked just inside my apartment complex. All of these people are now people I can converse with and can introduce me to other people. (Come to think of it, this is exactly how I ended up becoming a writer.)

    You should try it. It can be a lot of fun, and very very rewarding.

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