How to Open a Conversation

When you get in the car, you know to turn on the engine. But when you get in a conversation, do you know how to open a conversation? Do you turn on the engine? Many of us don’t. We flounder because of it. The opening of any conversation is (or should be) about welcoming and connecting. It’s basic. It’s obvious. And it’s often ignored.

When we engage in discretionary conversation, we are generally looking for two things: to express ourselves and to connect. We want to feel like we belong. We want to be acknowledged and recognized. And, usually, we have something we want to say.

Opening Moves: Beginning the Conversation

First, we must connect. It’s like opening the door to enter the car. There are several quick and simple ways to enhance connection. In my last blog, dealt in detail with the first of these, eye contact. It comes naturally to some, but for many it’s problematic.

Now, I’d like to turn to the second piece of opening. You’ve made contact. You’re in the car, what now? Be sure you have the key. In conversation, this step equates to learning (if necessary) and using your conversation partner’s name.

OMG, I Can’t Remember It!

Sometimes I’m not entirely certain of my own name. We all go blank sometimes. Recognizing that is key to dealing with this embarrassing moment. There’s a very simple remedy. The quick form is, “I’m so sorry. I’m blanking on your name.” An even better alternative is, “You know, I’m terrible with names. I’m Peter and I’m embarassed to say I’m blanking on your name.”

This simple opening, accomplishes several things:

1. You’ve learned the name.

2. You’ve (perhaps) helped your conversation partner (CP) out by sharing your name without her having to ask.

3. You’ve demonstrated your willingness to be open. (“I’m terrible with names.”)

4. You’ve introduced a possible topic to laugh your conversation — the struggles with name recall.

Not bad. It probably took 30 seconds to do all that. But you’re not quite finished with the name bit. You must now use the name, out loud. You’ve just heard it, so this is not hard. “Jill, of course. Good to see you again. (Or whatever might seem appropriate.) Once I’ve said the name out loud, I often repeat it silently to myself. To contune the driving analogy, think of it as checking to be sure I have my insurance policy in the glove compartment. Another reinforcement I use is that I know I am going  to use that name at lest once again.

Practice How to Open a Conversation

You’re almost ready to drive the car.  But let’s take just one thing at a time. If you’re serious about taking your conversation to the next level, it’s time to practice. Here’s your assignment, if you choose to accept it:

In the next week, create at least two conversations in which you practice the first two opening moves: eye contact and name use. You’ll need to be intentional about it. Give yourself a reward when you do it. If you have questions or comment about any of this, I’d love to hear from you in the chat box below. Or if there’s some other aspect of Mindful Conversation you’d like me to cover, or a particular issue you’re dealing with, please let me know.

Further Reading

Much of the information in these blogs will be covered in my forthcoming (2021) book, Mindful Conversation: Express Openly, Connect Deeply, Anytime with Anyone.

If you’re looking for a great read about the meandering corridors of human relationships, try Lori Gottlieb’s Maybe You Should Talk with Someone