How to Talk to Pretty Much Anyone: 18 Genius Tips from Expert Communicators
by Ethan Cotler
Knowing how to communicate with people is an important skill for all people. But it can be difficult to know how to talk to someone that you don’t know well or don’t have much in common with.
Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Charles Duhigg and communication expert Sarita Maybin have tips for how to communicate with anyone. According to Duhigg, there are three categories that conversations can be grouped in.
- Practical conversations mainly have questions such as “What’s this really about?”
- More emotional conversations have questions like, “How do we feel?”
- While social conversations have questions like “Who are we?”
He recommends analyzing the conversation you’re engaged in, then assigning which category it falls under and moving forward accordingly.
Prepare for conversations
Conversations often happen spontaneously, but when they’re planned, you can prepare for them.
Duhigg found that people who prepared for a conversation were less anxious and had fewer awkward pauses. He recommends to figure out two topics that you could discuss.
A good mix of one question and one thing you’d like to say can help set the tone for a productive conversation.
Listen to understand
Give the other person your full attention and remain silent until they’re done talking.
Don’t just wait to talk.
Nod and smile
In addition to offering a warm smile, a nod is a great use of body language to positively connect with someone new.
Watch their body language
Duhigg recommends looking out for the other person’s body language–it can tell you a lot!
For instance, if they’re leaning in, it’s usually a good sign they’re interested while averting eye contact might show that they’re not.
Make eye contact
On top of keeping eye contact to maintain a more personal connection, a smile can never hurt. It can make you seem more friendly.
Use their name
Using someone’s name can help them feel noticed. Even though it’s so simple, it can make a big difference because it shows that you remember and care.
Give and take equally
You probably have engaged in a lopsided conversation with someone where you can’t feel like you can get a word in. Likely, you’ve done the same!
So, it’s important to talk about yourself then ask about the other person. Duhigg says this especially important when discussing feelings.
Offer a genuine compliment
Instead of commenting on their body, compliment something they did or a piece of their outfit.
It’ll make the person you’re talking to feel like you’re interested in them as whole person.
Find something to agree on
Arguments are common, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find common ground.
It can help establish more of a connection with the other person and make them want to keep up the conversation.
Repeat their words back to them
Doing this can help show the other person that you’re listening to them.
When having emotional conversations, this can be even more important.
Validate and empathize
Listen to their concerns or feelings, and even restate them so they know you’re understanding them.
It can help people feel more comfortable sharing things with you!
Use criticism wisely
Some conversations necessitate criticism, but it should be done in a respectable way. Try putting it in a “compliment sandwich,” where you give a positive, then the criticism, then another positive statement.
Don’t be too hard on yourself! Duhigg recommends using mistakes as “opportunities to learn” instead of giving up entirely.
Respect the silence
Maybin recommends saying something like, “I was just pondering ______. What are your thoughts on that?” when filling the silence.
This keeps the conversation flowing in a way that feels organic and productive.
Check in during the conversation
Especially if it’s a longer conversation, it’s always wise to check in to make sure you’re understanding them.
You can do this by asking questions and repeating what they said in your words.
Ask them to share their opinion
People have opinions on all sorts of things Ask open-ended questions!
Usually, all you need is to do is broach a certain topic and the other person might open up.
Find out their favorites
What’s their favorite restaurant? Movie? Book?
Questions like these can help you learn a lot about a new acquaintance.
Ask a deep question
Questions like these can flip a small talk conversation to a more profound exchange. Being vulnerable like this can strengthen your bond with the other person.
Using these tips can help you speak to anyone.
Just remember to be mindful and analyze the conversation to know how best to move forward!