How to talk to anyone (with a heartbeat under 100bpm)

Sandy Radburnd

Stomach tightens.

Breathing quickens. Pulse skyrockets.

…Seriously. You’d have thought I was heading off to war. Not about to talk to someone new!

It took reading How to Win Friends and Influence People and cold calling for five hours a day for me to get over my fear and create conversations people enjoyed. But, you can learn it much faster.

Below is my short, memorisable framework that anybody can use to engineer interesting conversations.

First, though, let me shatter a fantasy.

I preach something ugly. That the magic of travelling isn’t life-changing festivals or exotic meals that excite your taste buds. No. The magic stems from finding yourself alone, without anyone to rely on but yourself.

It turbocharges your maturity.

And when my one-way ticket dumped me in the Netherlands, I was no exception. I had to make friends or life was going to suck.

As I did my best to connect with my foreign flatmates and colleagues, this was the pattern that became my base for great conversations:

It’s not about sets of perfectly worded questions.

It’s about understanding that people love to talk about their passions. And they love the opportunity to be a teacher and share their knowledge.

That means:

  • For people to talk about their passions, you need to be curious and ask about them.
  • For people to share their knowledge, you need to be vulnerable and admit what you’d like to improve about yourself.

I’ve done enough reps to understand that if you give someone the chance to tell stories or share advice, and they still give you defensive one-word answers… they’re just more nervous than you are.

With that in mind, here’s what it looks like in practice. The particular words I’ve used aren’t important. Instead, focus on the dynamic underneath (being curious and vulnerable).

Everyone appreciates the interest,

And will return the favour. After they’ve asked you a few questions, you’ll get a feel for when you’ve had the spotlight for long enough, and it’s time to switch back to them.

You might think it’s too confronting,

To ask an elderly person what gives them meaning in their final years. But, you’re encouraging them to be vulnerable, and Brené Brown’s research shows that mutual vulnerability is the foundation of friendship.

Once you see the results, you’ll bury your face in your hand the next time you hear an adult open a conversation with a teenager, “How are you liking school?”.

… Come on. They’re begging to be asked, “What do you love doing in your weekends at the moment?”.

That’s enough from me.

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