I have a weird problem. I don’t know what to talk about with anyone, even my friends. I’ve been an introvert and quiet all my life but I have had a group of friends with whom I have hung out with since seventh grade at school (I am a senior in high school now). I feel like I’m the odd one out because all my friends are really close but I’m just there; they still invite me to things but when I’m with them I just can’t think of what to talk about. It’s like my mind goes blank, kind of like when normal people are with their crushes, but I’m like that with EVERYONE. I feel like all my friends have a collection of funny stories and can make anything sound funny or interesting but I don’t have that super magical ability. I usually just talk about school but that, of course, gets boring after a while. Other than that I have no idea what to say to them.
I’m going to my dream college in August but I’m afraid I’m not going to make any friends there because I’m too boring or not interesting or funny enough. I’m really close to my family; I talk normally with my sister and even my mother and they say I’m funny but when I’m with my friends I get all nervous and feel like they are judging me or if I don’t have something interesting or funny to talk about, they won’t be friends with me anymore. I think myself as kind, sincere, and an overall good person but how do I find something to talk about? What do I talk about? What do other people talk about with other people? How can I be more interesting and funny so people will like me? How can I keep up a conversation? How can I learn to do all this before I go to college in August so that I can have a great group of friends there and finally be happy and not lonely? How can I be less awkward and nervous around my friends and people in general? How do I talk to people without making the conversation seem forced and awkward?
You’d better grab a hold of something, Sparkler, because the answer to that question is going to blow. Your. MIND. Are you ready? Are you sitting down? Are you strapped in tightly, muscles clenched and loins girded for the pile of hot reality that’s about to come your way? Here’s how you talk to people without ever feeling weird, awkward, or pressured to come up with something scintillating to say:
That’s it. That’s the secret.
And being a good, active listener is so much more important to having organic, easy conversations than being funny, being witty, being able to captivate a room. In fact, they’re completely different skill sets. Telling a great story is about being able to entertain people, whereas having a great conversation is about making the other person feel like they’re interesting and entertaining to you. People don’t talk to each other because they want to be amused; they do it because they want to be heard.
Which means that if you’re a great listener, you won’t have to worry about making and keeping friends. People will seek you out, because they will love talking to you. They will be interested in you, because you make them feel interesting.
In practice, here’s what this means: When you meet someone, ask them questions that give them the chance to talk about themselves. The best ones are open-ended: What did you think about x? How did you meet y? I heard you’ve been to z country, what was it like? And when you realize that you’ve stumbled onto a topic that the person you’re with is really interested in, the magic words are, “Tell me about that.” As in: Tell me about your kids. Tell me about your dog. Tell me about your trip, your hometown, your favorite place nearby to get pizza. Oh, you have a tattoo of a butt on your butt? Well! Tell me more!
Approach every conversation like it’s a chance to get to know the person you’re talking to, and I promise you, Sparkler, that you’ll never feel any pressure to be funnier or more interesting on command—which makes it that much more likely that you’ll have funny and interesting moments organically, i.e., when there’s a natural opening for you to respond to what someone has just told you with a story about your own life. But even if you volunteer almost no information about yourself, I must tell you: Practice this technique, make it your own, and everyone you meet will come away thinking that you were the greatest conversationalist ever.
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