We live in a world today where most people still view networking as sleazy. And, unfortunately, that’s because most networkers lack the social skills to present themselves as collaborative, charming people.
Rather than learning to develop the social skills to become more socially smooth through, many networkers hold the same attitude that most people hold about social skills. The attitude that social skills are:
- Something some people have and others don’t.
- Something that doesn’t need to be developed with formal training.
The sooner networkers realize that their social skills can grow and that their ability to effectively connect with other hinges on that growth, the sooner we’ll all have better business (and personal) relationships with better, win-win collaborations.
What Are the Main Tasks For Developing Your Conversational Ability?
Outlined by Chris MacLeod, author of The Social Skills Guidebook, here’s a brief to-do list of the main tasks that come with developing your overall conversational ability. (Be sure to skip the items you have handled, or the ones that don’t apply to you.)
- Identify the aspects of conversation you want to work on: such as making more natural small talk, approaching and talking to people you don’t (yet) know, or having more intimate, revealing conversations.
- Determine whether any of your conversation trouble spots are due to anxiety or insecurities: then try to resolve them.
- Determine whether any of your conversation trouble spots are influenced by negative social habits or attitudes you have: then try to correct them.
- Look into resources on becoming a more well-rounded, interesting person: MacLeod’s website, Succeed Socially, is a great starting point.
- Identify and follow up on opportunities to practice in the ways that will help you meet your conversation goals.
- As you become more comfortable, practice conversation in higher-stakes situations.
What Are the Most Important Factors to Develop Your Conversational Ability?
MacLeod shares some practical approaches to conversation on what he calls a more “micro level” (such as his article on how to handle awkward silences).
But, on a more broad, general plane, these are the most important factors for developing your conversational ability.
More practice leads to better (social) performance.
Social skills are a skill. And, as with any skill, more practice will lead to better social interactions and conversations.
Feeling comfortable is a big factor in conversing well.
As social scientist, Lucio Buffalmano, notes over at The Power Moves:
Buffalmano: “Charming happens at the intersection of highly developed social skills and high personal value. High personal value includes an element of “comfort within one’s skin” and social confidence.
You can’t be charming indeed if you’re nervous and self-conscious.”
For more on how to be charming, check out this free guide.
Empathy is another big factor in conversing well.
Your ability to put yourself in the other person’s shoes will allow you to make the interaction more rewarding for everyone involved and better avoid the social mistakes that come from not taking into consideration the other person’s feelings.
For more on the factors to develop your conversational ability, check out this free guide.
How to Encourage Early Engagement with the Question-Type Toolbox Method
Now, finally, we get into one of the actual three methods to doing your part to facilitate great conversation.
The question toolbox method is an idea that was presented by Ramit Sethi in his course “How To Talk To Anybody” that was further refined by me into what I now call the “question-type toolbox method.”
Sethi’s idea is to have a set of interesting questions memorized that you can pull out at any time to keep the conversation engaging. Those questions will be stored in your mental toolbox and you can swap out old questions for newer ones that you find get better engagement.
The issue with Sethi’s approach here though is that, more often than not, it’s only realistic to memorize about three questions to deploy in conversation that you’ll actually remember. And, even if you do remember them all — and are given the opportunity to use those questions — once they’re used up you’re “stuck.”
That’s why I designed and created the question-type toolbox method.
Rather than having a set of questions memorized, only memorize a set of types of questions. Then, use those.
The two question-types that I recommend are the “inspiration question-type” and the “favorite question-type.”
How to use the “inspiration question-type” in your daily conversations.
Simply put, you’re asking someone why they decided to do something.
- What inspired you to [pursue this line of work / become a…, etc.]?
- What made you decide to [go to the beach today / move to…, etc.]?
- What made it necessary to […]?
- What made you […]?
Here’s an example based on a real-life conversation of how this question-type might come into play.
The context is that you connected with someone on LinkedIn and they agreed to hop on a Zoom call with you. This is how it goes.
[Zoom call starts.]
You: Hi, Lia! It’s nice to meet you.
Lia: You, too.
You: How are you today?
Lia: I’m doing good. Business is really hectic this time of year, but can’t complain. You?
You: All is good on my side as well. (Inspiration question-type) What makes business hectic this time of year for you?
This question-type can be used for nearly any situation where asking “why” is appropriate.
How to use the “favorite question-type” in your daily conversations.
With this question-type, you’re asking someone what their favorite thing is or what their favorite part of something is.
- What’s been your favorite part about [becoming a…, etc.]?
- What’s your favorite part about [where you’re from, etc.]?
- What’s your favorite [movie right now / food when you want to treat yourself, etc.]?
Here’s another example with the same context as before.
[Zoom call starts.]
You: Hello, Bob!
Bob: Hi, nice to meet you.
You: Likewise, how’s it going?
Bob: Yeah, good. Working a lot. And you?
You: I’ve been pretty busy myself. (Favorite question-type) What’s your favorite part about the work you’re doing?
Once again, this question-type has a wide range of applications as well. Keep it in mind for cases where a new topic comes up because you’ll often find that it’s possible to ask what their favorite part about that topic is.
How to Move Past the First Few Minutes of One-On-One Conversation
The previous question-types are usable in many points in conversation and we’ve gone over how you can use them to get the conversation started.
Now, as MacLeod notes:
MacLeod: “…if you’re going to have trouble in a conversation it’s likely going to be in those first couple of minutes. Usually, if you can get past that point the rest is easier. There are two reasons for this: First, if someone doesn’t feel like talking to you, or you don’t have much to say to each other, that’s typically going to come out in the opening minutes. They won’t give you much to work with, or you’ll both struggle to find something to talk about. (If that happens it’s not necessarily a reflection on you, as it’s impossible for every conversation you start to be a success.) Secondly, we’re usually feeling at our most nervous and on the spot when we’re first talking to someone, and the anxiety can cause us, or them, to stall out.”
So, here are two methods (really “conversation frameworks”) you can use to better navigate those first few minutes of conversation (without coming across as sleazy).
#1. The “HET” Method
The “HET” method (pronounced “heat”) is a conversation framework I developed to help warm up interactions.
This is how it works:
- H: Highlight Question
- E: Excitement Question
- T: Travel Question
You can use any of the letters above to pose a question that gets the receiver engaged. Here are my favorites:
- H: What’s been the highlight of your [day / week / month / year] so far?
- E: What are you most excited about it in your [work / life] right now?
- T: Do you have any travel plans for this year?
On the travel, I also like to ask:
You: “Did you get the chance to do any traveling last year?”
Or, if they didn’t travel last year and have no travel plans for this year, I like to follow up with:
You: “If you could travel anywhere you wanted to, where would you go?”
You can combine the HET method with the question-types above until you land on a topic you both want to talk about.
#2. The “F.E.W.” Principle (AKA: the “Plunging Stone”)
A conversation formula developed and introduced by networking expert, Jordan Harbinger, “F.E.W.” stands for “Facts, Emotion, and Why.” The idea is to ask questions that elicit each of these three in that order.
For example, a fact you might aim to elicit from your conversation might be, “What do you do for work?”
Then, to elicit an emotion from them, you might ask, “What’s your favorite part of the job?”
Then, the “why” could be, “What is it about your job that makes you like it so much? What keeps you coming in every day?” You’re eliciting their “why” — their reason (or inspiration) for showing up to work.
How these methods work as a good backup plan if your opening line fizzles
As MacLeod notes:
MacLeod: “Sometimes you’ll say something to start a conversation and the other person replies, but doesn’t give you much to work with. By far the most classic example is when you ask someone how they’re doing and they say ‘fine’ or ‘good’ ‘Or you ask them about a movie they recently saw, and they’ll say ‘It was okay.’ Or maybe you make a statement and they’ll go, ‘Yeah…’ You never know when this will happen, so it’s always good to be prepared to try again and say something else that may get the discussion rolling. You could ask a more specific follow-up question, ask about another topic, or make a new statement. In general, as you get better at thinking on your feet it frees you up to ask whatever type of conversation starter you want. Even if the other person doesn’t answer in an ideal way, you know you can follow up and keep things going.”
So, for example, if your conversation partner doesn’t give you much to work with, you can use either of the conversation methods above to keep the conversation going.
An example from the question-type toolbox method:
You: “Hi, I’m [NAME], how are you?”
You: (Inspiration question-type) “Cool, what’s made your day good so far?”
An example from the HET method:
You: “Hi, I’m [NAME], how are you?”
You: (Highlight) “Good, what’s been the highlight of your day so far?”
And an example from the FEW principle:
You: “Hi, I’m [NAME], how are you?”
You: (Fact) “Good. I’m curious, where do you usually go on vacation?”
Then, some follow-ups to that fact-eliciting question might be:
- Emotion: What is it about [vacation spot] that makes you feel relaxed?
- Why: What makes [vacation spot] so meaningful to you?
For the FEW principle, you’re also welcome to ask any everyday “getting-to-know-you” question as your first “fact.” Here are a few that MacLeod recommends:
- “What do you do for work?”
- “What are taking in school?”
- “What kind of stuff do you do for fun?”
- “Have you been able to get away and travel this summer/winter?”
- “Are you from here?” / “How long have you lived in the area?”
- “Do you have any kids?”, “How old are they?/How many?/Girls or boys?”
Then, continue conversating until you reach a topic that you’re both mutually interested in.
MacLeod has some more great ideas on this if you want to check out his free resources below:
Being a charming networker is a mix of social skills, personal value, and sharing that value to build people up.
One of the biggest mistakes some networkers make is to focus solely on the “what do you do” and “how can this person help me” aspects of their conversations. And, if they’re not “worth their time,” to quickly move on to someone else.
This article gave you three methods on how to be more charming while networking and with these examples, you’re well on your way to just that.