By Tim Murphy
Think about some of the best opening conversations you've ever had – the ones where you walk away thinking, "Wow, that went great! What a guy!" Now think of the worst initial conversations you've had – the ones that seem to last forever without going anywhere, making you want to scream, "This guy SUCKS, get me out!"
Too often the difference between a good conversation and a terrible one is a matter of who did most of the talking. If it was you, you probably loved it. If it was the other person, it was probably awful.
Whether it's first dates, interviews or introductions, no one wants to hear someone prattle on and on about him or herself. In fact, that's the opposite of what people want. People enjoy talking about themselves, hearing themselves speak, so why get in the way of that, especially when networking or during an interview?
Why quiet is better
Taking a more measured approach and letting people indulge the desire to hear themselves speak can pay off in two ways. First, it lets the person do what they want, which is steer the conversation toward something they know well and like.
If you get a new contact or interviewer going on how great or exclusive or prestigious their company is, it makes them feel good because it's (indirectly) about them. Now you've set the stage for them to form a favorable impression of you. It's the same reason judges are more lenient after lunch – if their mood is elevated, your chances are way better.
The second way shutting up and letting people talk pays off is by preventing you from grabbing the conversation like a greedy kid. It also prevents the other person from having that negative feeling of "Ugh, when will this end!?" If a date, or new acquaintance, or interviewer starts looking at their watch, you're toast.
Do the asking rather than the answering
So turn the mental filter on high, and whenever you get the urge to interject with something about yourself, just say nothing. Obviously you shouldn't turn into a robot or ignore questions asked of you, but try not to take hold of the conversation.
Asking a lot of questions is a great way to not only shut yourself up, but to encourage the other person to talk about themselves. How to Win Friends and Influence People, one of the oldest and most popular self-help books in history, advises "Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves." Again, we're setting the stage to make you look good.
Now put it to practice
People love talking about themselves, and conversations can quickly become a zero-sum game. If one person is talking the whole time, the other person isn't, and it becomes awkward quickly.
The more aware of this fact you are, the less likely you are to monopolize a conversation and make a bad impression. Just relax, ask good questions, and try to let them do the talking.
Tim Murphy is founder of ApplyMate.com, a free application tracking tool.
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