Small Talk, Small Ideas: Fifty Ways to Have a Deep Conversation
Idea 1 – Start off Small
Having a deep conversation is similar to those first few steps off the beach and into the ocean waves. If you go bounding into the conversation with a question so deep you could drown in it, you’re liable to end up retreating back to the shore looking a little soggy. On the other hand, if you’re not articulate enough to express what you want to say, you’re liable to stay sat with your friend in an uncomfortable silence under the parasol in your scuba gear. Or, if you were to try and use every idea given to you from these series of posts in one conversation, it would be like throwing yourself into a maelstrom; there would be so much going on you’d have no idea which way you were facing and you’d miss the tiny little plankton of ideas passing you by. The challenge then is knowing where to start.
Having a deep conversation can be difficult if you’re new to breaching through small talk, because you need to first learn how to steer a conversation naturally towards what you and your conversational partner might enjoy talking about. This is easily done by simply saying the words ‘tell me more’. Doing so allows you to listen, learn and then start to steer the conversation.
One common area discussed alongside communication skills is persuasion. Persuasion is a vitally important skill. Unfortunately, there are many books available on the topic of ‘dark psychology’ and ‘manipulation’ which claim to teach persuasion skills. This is not one of those books. I can’t say I agree with them, because they are usually used to benefit one party more than another. Being manipulated is like swimming into a net wrapped with barbed wire. It serves only to maim and leave you worse off. Instead, when I suggest you ‘steer’ the conversation it should be done in a mutually beneficial fashion. The use of subtle questions to learn more about the other person and what topics they are prepared to engage with deeply, rather than trying to overpower their conversational will is better than trying to goad them into telling you something you can use against them.
To best steer a conversation by starting off small you can begin with a simple question.
For example, say you are passionate about improving financial literacy among students. You could say something like ‘Did you ever learn how the stock market worked when you were at school?’ and knowing full well that your friend probably didn’t either, they are liable to reply ‘no’. This is the point when you could either do two simple things:
· Make a suggestion.
· Ask for an opinion.
If you make a suggestion you could say something easily digestible such as ‘I think they should teach basic economics at school, because it’s sad to hear people talking about how they are always broke. If they knew how to manage their finances, it would make life easier for them.’
Dissecting this statement, we can see that you have suggested something which is: easily understood, relatable and contains an emotional rationale. There’s nothing complex or controversial either.
That is the ideal structure for a simple suggestion. It should be:
· Easily understood.
· Contain a non-controversial emotional message.
However, if you wanted to ask for an opinion you could say ‘what do you think they should teach?’.
By asking this type of open-ended question, you are essentially asking for an opinion. Your friend is liable to reply with a couple of ideas of topics they either wish they knew about or something they are well versed with. Both statements will allow you to learn more about your conversational partner in the process and then continue the flow.
Importantly, these types of open-ended questions are also non-confrontational, because your conversational partner is not being pushed on explaining their viewpoints on a complex or controversial matter unlike how a manipulator would.
Therefore, the ideal starting request for an opinion should be:
· An open-ended question.
· Something which allows you to learn more about your conversational partner.
Keeping your initial statements small by either making a suggestion or asking for an opinion is that first splash into the depths of a deep conversation!
This has been a sample of my new book ‘Small Talk, Small Ideas’. Available soon from Amazon.