In a similar vein, learn more, read more, expose yourself to more, and think more. Stop relying on information to passively come to you; proactively learn about what you are interested in. Have intellectual curiosity. Develop opinions by thinking through different perspectives and become more knowledgeable in general. These two points make you the type of person with whom free-flowing conversation happens naturally, and doesn’t have to be manufactured.
With that said, you could be the most interesting person in the world and no one will care if you have one of the most repulsive social habits: being judgmental. This is when you only see in black and white, and everyone falls into two categories: your perspective, or the wrong one. You are a member of the Belief Police. You can bet that this is annoying and frustrating to others, to the point where it will eventually lead to them feeling unsafe around you and outright avoiding you. When you are feeling an urge to judge, try to instead take the perspective that you lack the information to make a smart judgment, and become more curious about others and what you are missing. If all else fails, make the assumption that everyone is simply trying their best with what they have.
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Better Small Talk: Talk to Anyone, Avoid Awkwardness, Generate Deep Conversations, and Make Real Friends By Patrick King
Get the audiobook on Audible at https://bit.ly/BetterSmallTalk
Show notes and/or episode transcripts are available at https://bit.ly/social-skills-shownotes
Learn more or get a free mini-book on conversation tactics at https://bit.ly/pkconsulting
For narration information visit Russell Newton at https://bit.ly/VoW-home
For production information visit Newton Media Group LLC at https://bit.ly/newtonmg
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I’ll never forget a child who sat down next to me at an old job and said, “Do you know what an elephant’s pubic hair is called? It’s called a dude.” (I later found out this was an accurate fact.) The same concept comes into play in any conversation or interaction with a new person. You don’t necessarily need to know and learn more for the sake of shocking people with new facts, but it is undeniably beneficial to how people view you. The more you know, the more you can talk about, and the more ways you can connect.
Whereas the prior point was on doing more, this idea emphasizes educating yourself more—proactively gaining knowledge instead of relying on it to come to you passively. Be more well-read. You would be amazed what you can learn from books or even just newspapers five minutes a day. Being able to explain how things work, how things relate to each other, or what unique phenomena are enlightens others and makes you more interesting.
If you have little to say, that means you need to consume more in general and gain perspective outside of your everyday existence.
The more you have to talk about, the better. This does not mean that you ought to be starting a conversation with someone and running through a handful of topics one after another, but the more knowledgeable you are about different things, the better the chances are that you and your conversation partner will connect and see eye-to-eye on something.
You want to aim for breadth and touch on many topics as opposed to delving deeply into one sole topic. The act of knowing is more than simply being interesting—it makes conversation with you easy and, oftentimes, a delight. It allows you to teach, instruct, enlighten, lead, and always have something interesting to say.
Develop and share opinions, even if you have to start by parroting other people’s opinions. People love discussing their perspectives. Even if you disagree with someone, conversation follows. Without an opinion, conversation stalls and dies. An opinion shows that you are interested, that you have made some sort of decision based on the facts you have, and that you are active in thinking about the world as a whole. Just imagine how frustrating it is to ask someone where they want to eat for dinner, but they never have an answer. Don’t be that person.
Imagine this. You bring up Brexit and you expect the other person to respond to you about it. But the other person has nothing to say. With a shrug, all he says is “Oh, yeah, I heard about that.” His lack of an opinion where you expect one freezes the conversation. There is nothing else to talk about, as that topic has been killed and now you don’t want to start a new topic because you are afraid he will shoot that one down, too. You would be far more interested if you met someone who had a clear opinion on Brexit and was able to discuss it with you. A lack of opinion simply makes it seem like you don’t think about things.
Not everyone has had tons of life experience or exposure to the news. But everyone has the ability to be curious about new things and desire to learn. Having the curiosity to care about other people and new things will make others want to talk to you and explain things to you or teach you new ideas.
Intellectual curiosity compels you to explore the world, both what’s right around you, and the world far away from you that requires a sixteen-hour flight or more to explore. You don’t have to fly to another country to learn a new language, meet new people, and try exotic food. From home, you can broaden your horizons, become more engaged in the world around you, and thus become more interesting. All you need to do is take the first step and learn.
At the same time it must be said, doing more and knowing more isn’t a panacea.
You could be the most interesting person in the world, but no one will care if you engage in conversational habits that, for lack of a better word, repulse people. Indeed, as you might have seen in your daily life, sometimes it’s an overall net gain if you don’t have to deal with people who annoy the heck out of you, no matter how much of a benefit they represent. It’s not a stretch to propose that you’d highly prefer someone who was milquetoast yet not irritating or frustrating.
In other words, appearing benign and non-annoying will probably make you a better conversationalist than being someone who is actually interesting but has frustrating interpersonal habits. Thankfully, we have learned a multitude of conversational tactics to make you appealing and captivating—now let’s make sure you’re not exhibiting toxic habits and behaviors. These include:
You Only See Black and White
Put another way, you only see one correct way of doing things, and anything that diverges from that view is wrong. And that way happens to be your view.
This is a rather large caveat to the prior section’s credo of branching out and developing more opinions and thoughts on issues. That still rings true, but you must express yourself while respecting and honoring the perspectives of other people. Most importantly, don’t make them feel judged, attacked, or lesser-than when you do express yourself. It’s not just a small talk or conversation tip, it’s a lesson for life.
If you only see one way of doing things, if you are constantly governed by “should” and “must” and if you typically assume people are “stupid” or “blind” then you, sir or madam, are judgmental. When you are judgmental, this means you are jumping to a conclusion, and almost always a negative one, without taking life circumstances, opinions, and preferences into account. You assume the worst, usually, and it is based only on your limited perspective and life experience and imposing it onto other people (should or must). If they don’t conform, then suddenly they gain the title of “stupid” or “blind.”
Being judgmental isn’t all bad. When our inner judge is alerted, we are able to make clear decisions and avoid potentially dangerous situations. Being judgmental also helps us to be creative, clever, and insightful. But for most of us, it’s a fairly thin line, and we can easily verge into offensive territory. Outside of only a few contexts, judgment actually holds very little use for us (certainly it is detrimental in the social context). Which of the below apply to you?
• You can’t see people beyond their perceived flaws.
• You struggle to see the positive in others.
• You jump to conclusions first, then analyze later (if at all).
• You don’t think in terms of ambiguity or shades of gray; there is only black or white.
• You are intolerant of people who come to different conclusions than you.
Whether you are doing it by expressing yourself, or dismissing the opinions and thoughts of others, this type of behavior can be truly hurtful and damaging to others. You might think you’re open-minded, but if you only have criticisms and judgments of others, you’re probably not.
Just as you wouldn’t want to be put in a box the moment you talk to people, others also don’t respond all that well to feeling as if they’re being judged. This is a hard habit to break because opinions can easily become personal. When you act this way, you tend to offend people and make them feel like they can’t express themselves around you.
In short, you become a full-fledged, card-carrying, badge-wearing member of the Belief Police. Open the door! You’re wrong about something! A Belief Policeman makes it his or her duty to let others know when they are wrong, and make sure they are thinking in the same way as them.
A Belief Policeman might be very effective at imposing their beliefs on others, but this habit is going to make you downright obnoxious to talk to. Who wants to spend time with someone who makes them feel judged, attacked, and defensive? So people stop opening up to you and will eventually avoid you altogether. Little by little, this will aggregate into a sense of unease and discomfort around you, and at that point, people will just start to avoid you. There’s a small chance that they might agree with some of the negative things you are saying, but that still doesn’t make them feel safe around you. Eventually, they’ll just avoid you so they can sidestep the feeling of having to censor themselves.
Being Belief Policemen causes us to spend way too much time squabbling over things just because we feel that other people believe or think something different than we do and must be corrected. But at what cost does this come? And in the end, does it really matter?
This is especially true when it comes to matters of taste and opinion. These are completely subjective. What looks good to you might be completely ugly to another person. You won’t convince anyone to like chocolate more than they already do or to enjoy beets when they hate them, so it’s really a waste of your time—and an extremely annoying one at that—to exert your energy trying to convince them.
If you feel that someone is doing something wrong, or thinking something wrong, instead of making that assumption, take a step back and wonder if you simply don’t have enough information yourself. If somebody has an opinion, respect that they have a reasonable basis for that opinion. After all, no one thinks their own decisions and thoughts are stupid. Ask questions about how they came up with that idea and what information and assumptions they hold.
You might just learn something. For instance, if someone drives into a parking spot that you were quite clearly waiting for, you might be tempted to think that they are just an inconsiderate and rude person. However, suppose that the person stumbles out of the car and falls to the ground, screaming that they are having a heart attack. Might your assessment of the situation change ever so slightly?
You’ve probably done some things other people might find bizarre, but there was a perfectly rational reason for your actions, right? Extend the courtesy of that assumption to others. Give people the benefit of the doubt. At least assume they have reasonable underpinnings for their opinions and beliefs. What experiences have they had in their lives that might explain why they hold a position in such contrast to yours? Remember that people have their own reasons for opinions and beliefs and that not everybody thinks just the way you do. You can either recognize this or not.
Hopefully, this is a mindset that will lead to a more natural type of curiosity about others—if only to see what pieces of information you are missing.
If all else fails, try to recognize that everyone is doing the best they can, the smartest they can, and the nicest they can, with the circumstances they were dealt. It’s only when we feel that people are not doing their best or trying hard that our judgmental instincts arise. If we instead take the perspective that everyone is making their greatest effort, suddenly things change.
Overall, choose your battles and don’t fret about the small details of what you can’t change. You’ll be happier and less stressed, and you’ll notice a direct, positive correlation between that and the quality of your friendships and interactions.