How to Talk to People

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How to start a conversation.

If you are recently divorced or just starting the divorce process, making small talk with extended family members, acquaintances, and strangers can be difficult —it’s common for men to wonder how to talk to people. We recently came across an article on one of our favorite websites, The Art of Manliness, that does an exceptional job outlining the often awkward endeavor of small talk.
For men redefining themselves after divorce, the gift of gab can be essential. The authors of  “Heading Out on Your Own: Day 22— How to Make Small Talk” Brett and Kate McKay deftly highlight the importance of small talk when they said :

“Think about it. How did all of your current most important non-familial relationships begin? Most likely with a bit of small talk one day. Asking about a homework assignment in chemistry class or commiserating about the pain you were in while doing bear crawls down the football field. And now you’re best buds.”

Every relationship in your life (with the exception of immediate family) has started with some form of small talk. Mastering the art of lightly engaging other people can lay the foundation for building new relationships and redefining who you are as a man.

The McKays’ article distinguishes between the art of making small talk with strangers and with acquaintances. The two groups require different approaches to successfully engage in conversation and the article does a wonderful job providing examples and actions steps. It is worth the read if you have the time.

For striking up conversation with strangers, The Art of Manliness suggests using the ARE method. This is not to be confused with the ARRGGHH method (also known as talking like a pirate). The ARE method uses a three-step process to stoke a conversation: Anchor, Reveal, Encourage.

Anchor.

This establishes a common ground by making “an observation on your ‘mutual shared reality’ that extends the first little thread of connection between you and another person.” Anchoring the conversation can be as simple as remarking on something in your immediate vicinity.  The McKays’ article gives the examples of: “The set list tonight has been fantastic” or “This weather is perfect.” These comments are unobtrusive and can open the door to more meaningful conversation.

Reveal.

Following up your anchor comment by sharing something about yourself that relates to your initial comment. The reveal examples that are offered in “How to Make Small Talk” include, “there’s a much bigger crowd here than there was at their show last year” and “I’ve been waiting for a break in the heat to go hiking”.

These small revelations about you slowly build rapport while also giving the other person information that will allow them to craft a response.

Encourage.

This is where you shift the focus of your comments to the other person. The most efficient way to do this is with a relevant question that builds on the topic of your anchor. The encouraging question can be something simple like “Were you at that show” or “Do you hike?”  Continue to encourage the conversation by listening to the responses, asking questions and offering comments that will foster trust between you.

Conversing with an acquaintance requires a different approach than initiating a conversation with a stranger. Because you already have mutual knowledge of each other (albeit limited) anchoring is less important. A friendly smile and well-crafted open-ended question can work wonders with an acquaintance, but it is essential to have a follow-up question ready.

The McKays explain this need for a follow-up question:

“Here’s how it usually goes: How was your weekend? How’s your day going? How have you been? Whatadya been up to? Fine. Fine. Good. Not much…cue the crickets! Questions like these are conversation killers — they only prompt a one or two word response, and are basically used by most people as rote hellos in passing, not as questions where an actual answer is expected.”

Topics that are generally safe territory include music, food, and comments on your immediate location. When talking to strangers, especially of the opposite sex, it is important to not bombard them with questions or ask anything too personal right off the bat.  Questions like “ do you know where I can get a good sandwich around here” or “where is the best place to grab a microbrew in the neighborhood” can comfortably segway into a conversation. Avoid asking women you have just met things like, where do you live? Where do you work? Do you live alone? These questions will have women running in the opposite direction faster than you can say windowless van.

These are just a few ways to get the conversation rolling. Talking to new people —and people you only casually know can be stressful, especially if you are going through a transition like a divorce. Practicing the art of small talk can boost your self confidence and open the door to meeting new people.

If you want to learn more about honing your small talk skills, check out the article on The Art of Manliness or It’s the Way You Say It by Carol Fleming, The Fine Art of Small Talk by Debra Fine, Talk to Strangers by David Topus

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