How to have a conversation with almost anyone



By Business Insider

I’m a shy person who has learned to bring out the best in others. You can, too.

A bit of background: I live in Park City, Utah, about two miles from the ski area.

This winter, when I found my writing veering towards the boring, I took a few hours off and headed for the slopes.

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Park City has a lot of four- and six-passenger lifts, which gave me a wonderful opportunity to practice my conversational skills with people from around the world and all over the United States.

Here’s what I learned:

1. “How’s your day going?”

I always greet the other people on my chair with a friendly, open-ended question. Most people respond to this one with a short phrase, but plenty of folks immediately start talking in detail about their day, which tells you they are social and outgoing.

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Out of an entire season, about five people basically ignored my greeting or signaled they didn’t want to talk. No problem. Besides, that was a very small percentage. (These are the “almost” folks in my headline; don’t let them bother you for even one second. Just move on.)

2. Probe for details

I’m genuinely curious. On a ski mountain, I want to know if you are bold or cautious, eager to ski the trees or determined to stay on the bunny slopes. Once I learn this, I can help you. But until I know something substantive about you, we are limited to the most basic topics, which tend to be boring.

So as quickly as possible, I try to understand why you have travelled thousands of miles to my town.

3. Be surprisingly helpful

I want to be one of those people who makes your visit special. Perhaps I can tell you about a secret powder stash or the best off-the-beaten-track restaurant? If your spouse isn’t a skier, I can suggest a spectacular hike. My goal isn’t to quiz you, it’s to help you.

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Once people grasp that your motivation is to help them in a meaningful way, their demeanor often changes. They start sharing information and asking advice. They open up and also become grateful.

4. Be willing to switch roles

In my efforts to help others, I sometimes end up on the receiving end of kindness. After a few pleasantries, I realize that the other person I’ve just met is (these are all true):

• Head of mountain operations
• A gifted backcountry skier
• Part of the grooming team
• An editor at Forbes magazine
• Head of the marketing team for the ski area
• Desperately looking for a ghostwriter

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When this happens, I stop trying to be friendly local. If you’re lucky enough to grab a few minutes with a true expert, take full advantage. If they are willing, learn a bit of what they know: Ask them questions that other people can’t answer.

5. Have a sense of urgency

Modern ski lifts are fast. You don’t have much time to strike up a conversation of any depth, so I have learned to listen for clues of interesting professions and insights. On one ride, I met a psychiatrist who also does neuroscience research in the Boston area. When I asked her for details, she paused and asked, “Are you really interested?”

Yes, I’m really interested. And if there’s a secret to great conversations, this is it: Be so interested that you can’t wait to hear more.


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