We are constantly improvising conversation. And we have conversations so often with a large variety of people that we tend to form habits - default approaches for talking to someone that make it a simple easy process.
These habits aren’t always healthy. Talk can come easy, but conversation should also make you stop & think. It shouldn’t be predictable & bland.
So when you find yourself falling into some of these conversation traps, try a different course.
1. Opening a conversation with "How Are You?": How are you is so common that it is more like a greeting now than a genuine question. Even if people answer, the answer is often a default one too (“good, how are you?”). Try an alternative opener that invites genuine interaction, like “What’s been the highlight of your week?”.
2. Making perpetual small talk: Kicking around a little small talk is a reasonable way to ease into a conversation. But if you are having a longer conversation than get into a meatier topic. Stop talking about weather, the nice bracelet they are wearing or asking how their coffee is. Ask instead about the big questions on their heart, or the questions on yours.
3. Asking someone what they do for a job or how their work is going: A lot of people spend most of their week working, they don’t tend to enjoy rehashing it in their down-time. And let’s be honest, you aren’t interested in hearing about it either. Instead, ask people about their ambitions and passion projects – their art, their charity work, their music lessons or the short courses they are taking out of interest.
4 Talking about celebrity gossip: Celebrity gossip can be an easy go-to topic. It’s non-contentious (for the two of you, at least) and fodder for discussion. But gossip won’t help you grow your relationship, you don’t tend to find out anything about each other, and it’s often sinister. Depending on the source of the gossip, you may not be finding out anything about anything. Encouraging celebrity gossip fuels the evils of tabloid journalism. We accept it as a way of life, but we shouldn’t. Talk instead about things you’ve learnt this week.
5. Asking how the family is: Sometimes people follow-up the how are you non-event with “How’s your family?”. In some cases they may genuinely be interested in how your family is if they know them, or they may just be keen to fill up the silence with any question, which is more often the case. Either way, the message this question sends is that the asker isn’t remotely interested in engaging with you. The exception is if they know that someone specific in your family has been going through certain troubles, and they are genuinely concerned.
Being aware of these bad conversation habits will help you break them. And by being a better conversationalist, your interactions will be more rewarding for both you & your company.