How to Talk to Anyone, Anywhere, Anytime
By Gladeana McMahon
Confidence is only a set of skills, and once you know what they are and have practiced them, your confidence will grow.
One of the most common situations that people face is that of new social events because many people feel anxious and uncomfortable believing that they do not know what to say and will come across as boring. People fear what is usually called “small talk.” However, as many practiced conversationalists know, it is possible to have an excellent conversation by getting the other person to do most of the talking. The pressure is off once you focus on another person and not on what you perceive as being your inability to communicate. People who lack confidence are inward focused and worry that who they are is just not good enough. If you worry that you are uninteresting, it stops you from connecting because you are too tied up with worries about how you will come across.
There are different types of questions. However, the two most common types of questions are called “closed and open questions.” Closed questions are the ones where it is only possible to give a “yes” or “no” answer. For example: “Do you like your job? Would you like some coffee?” Closed questions are useful for fact-finding, but do not encourage the other person to open up the conversation. If you ask a closed question, you will find that this usually has to be followed quite quickly with another question.
However, another type of question is called an open question. Open questions are questions that encourage the other person to talk more freely about him or herself. When you use open questions, the other person has to expand their answers.
Open questions start with words such as what, where, how, when and why. For example, “What attracted you to work for your company? How did you come to know Mike? What would you say is the greatest challenge facing the industry now? Why would you like to travel to the Amazon? Where would you suggest I find that information?”
Once the other person starts to open up, providing you with information on one topic, you can then use more open questions to find out more about the person and their experiences. For example, “How did you come to know Mike?” might get a response such as, “I met him at the squash club. We’ve know each other for a few years now, and our families have become quite good friends and went on holiday recently to Portugal.” Not only have you learned more about Mike, but you can build on this information. For example, “I didn’t know you played squash. I’ve never played. What attracted you to the game?” or “Portugal. That’s somewhere I have never been. What’s it like as a country?” If you listen to what you are being told, there are many opportunities to follow up with more open questions, and, as the other person is also likely to ask you about yourself, the conversation now takes on an easy style. An acronym you can use is LEARN (Listen to what is said, Evaluate what has been said, and Respond now).
In addition to using open questions, many people have found it useful to remember the acronym OPEN because it provides a framework to hang their open questions on. OPEN stands for:
Occupation (e.g. job, past, present, future aspirations)
Personal relationships (e.g. family, friends, partner)
Environment (e.g. home, work, general environmental issues)
Non-work time (e.g. leisure activities, hobbies, outside interests)
By listening carefully to what the other person is saying, you can begin to use open questions to illicit information around each of the topics above. You do not need to follow the formula as it stands – for example, someone may start talking about their holiday in which case you would start with the N (e.g. What made you decide to go to Jamaica?), but if they were talking about their firm’s latest figures then you would focus on the O part of the formula (e.g. How’s your company coping with the current economic climate?)
To help you get familiar with using open questions and the OPEN formula, think about how many open questions you can come up with, and, like everything else, the more you practice thinking about the types of questions, the more questions will come to mind easily.
When you are learning a new skill, remember that practice makes perfect. Start by using your open questions wherever you can, with family, friends and at work. When you feel that you can manage these, think about all the situations you may be avoiding because of your fears about talking to others, and then armed with your open questions, start using the OPEN formula so you no longer need to avoid or fear any type of social situation.
Once you start being interested in another person, they become interested in you and will ask you questions, and that’s what makes it a two-way conversation. Once you do this, you are really connecting, and connecting is what being human is all about.
You are a wonderful person because everyone is wonderful. It’s just that most people do not realize this. Once you know that there are ways in which you can communicate more effectively, you will find that you never have to fear any type of social situation and can connect with people in an easy, friendly and approachable manner.
Abour Gladeana McMahon
Gladeana McMahon is a three-time award-winning coach, considered one of the leading personal development and transformational coaches in the UK combining academic rigor with down-to0earth communication skills. She holds a range of qualifications and fellowships as a therapist and coach. An innovator, Gladeana is one of the UK founders of cognitive behavioral coaching and an internationally published author with approximately 20 books of a popular and academic nature. She has presented a range of coaching programs and was listed as one of the UK’s Top Ten Coaches. She loves cats and likes to smile a lot.