I recently learned there was such a profession as a ‘specialist conversation trainer’.
I now know this because one designed an English university law school course so that, ‘networking students will benefit from moving their chitchat to deeper conversations, which can be done by asking out-of-the-ordinary questions and providing honest answers’.
The typically banal, ‘where you from’, ‘what do you do’, ‘going away next year’ are slammed. Forming perception that you’ve no genuine interest and only prescriptive, surface-level, bland, answers will follow.
“Boring questions are anathema to good conversation”.
I applaud the example method given to help transition from salutations to engagement;
‘respond to ‘how are you’ with a number between one and ten as it often leads to a discussion on what constitutes a good day over a bad one’.
Or as an alternative reporter adds;
‘ something dreary like “How are you?” with a number, which apparently morphs into an absorbing dialogue about how we could grade our mood numerically. It’s one option. Others include: bare-faced lying (“I am a gunge-operator for CBBC”), giving too much information (“Apart from the rash, I’m fine”), creepiness (“All the better now you’ve drifted into my purview, mademoiselle…”) and mystique (“Guess”).’
I have my own stock answers to this one. Long held friends of mine show similar tendencies.
‘Six foot tall, blonde hair, good looking’ being the most annoying.
‘Feeling so good people want to make it illegal’ being another.
Perhaps I should start to try, ‘9.9’. Or ‘Eleven’.
I do though admire the disruption of, ‘guess’.
I also remember with a cunning grin Derren Brown’s recommended starter.
Fresh out of B-School, I once got praised and pilloried in the space of a fortnight when coming across two different business owners in their premises and asking the same question first-up.
‘What’s your strategic vision here?’
The first one, a household retail name, loved it.
The second, a hospitality site owner, did not.
I learned to drop the corporate-speak and re-phrase after that second go.
A healthy amendment.
Small talk at a social gathering is different to walking by an office desk back in the not-too-distant day and shaking hands.
As is zoom hellos.
Yet we too can craft a ready-made suite for all occasions.
Business settings more ripe for the, ‘are we fire-fighting or trail-blazing today?’ set-up. Still, anything that makes your conversation partner double-take whilst falling short of sounding fake like a tv or radio host will undoubtedly be a solid foundation upon which to establish vital rapport.