How to Be Brilliant in Conversation (and Barely Say a Word)
In 1970, researchers Allen Ivey and John Hinkle performed a psychology experiment that demonstrated the power of non-verbal communication to generate connection between people. They invited a visiting lecturer to address the class on a fairly boring topic. Student behavior was typical…some napped, others doodled, read books, passed notes, etc. And the lecturer responded in kind, lecturing in a monotone with no gestures and his eyes mostly glued to his notes. Then, at a pre-arranged signal, a handful of students who were in on the experiment began display what are called “Attending Behaviors.” They made eye contact, smiled, leaned forward in their seats, and nodded agreement at things the lecturer said. Within one minute the lecturer made his first gesture. His verbal rate increased. Eye contact became more intense, and he began to improvise from his notes. The class turned into a lively session. Even the students who were not in on the experiment were drawn into the energy, and began to pay attention.
Then, at another pre-arranged signal, the students who started the attending behaviors went back to the typical non-attending behaviors. The speaker, after a couple of awkward attempts to get a response, went back to his unengaged lecture, and the classroom session finished like it started…dead.
Carnegie was Right
In a nutshell, the people we find most fascinating are those who are interested in us. The best way to make people interested in YOU is to be interested in THEM. Paradoxically, the people we regard as the most gifted conversationalists are the people who mostly listen while we talk. Gifted conversationalists use conversation to make the other person feel important and valued, not to demonstrate their own knowledge of something. Those whom we regard as the most gifted conversationalists are not the people with the most knowledge to impart, but the ones who seek knowledge from our own storehouse of facts and experiences.
A Simple Way to Use This
All truly brilliant communicators start out by being gifted listeners. And good listeners can be recognized by their mastery of 3 simple skills. Attending Skills, Following Skills and Reflecting Skills.
An Involved Posture…Leaning forward, toward the speaker
Occasionally nodding, but otherwise still
Arms and legs uncrossed
Opening the Door: “You look happy, sad, tired, etc.”
Brief Prompts: Sprinkled through the conversation. “Really?” “I see.” “No Kidding?”
“Go on.” “Right.” Choose your favorites.
Short Open Questions: Closed question: “Do you want me to talk to him for you?”
Open question: “What do you think is the best solution?”
Attentive Silence: (as appropriate)
Paraphrase what they tell you back to them
Reflect their emotions: “So you felt [fill in the blank.]”
Reflect their meaning: “So that means [fill in the blank.]”
A Profound Paradox
Being regarded as a brilliant conversationalist begins with being a gifted listener. People who master these skills are some of the most sought-after people in the world.
A woman who was a close friend of both William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli was once asked whose company she preferred. She preferred Disraeli. When asked why, she replied, “When I’m with Gladstone, I think that he must be the most wonderful person in the world. But when I’m with Disraeli, I think that I must be the most wonderful person in the world.” Disraeli was known for his deep listening skills.
Want people to think you’re interesting? Be interested in them. How? Attend, Follow and Reflect.
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