April 23, 2009

1. You walk into a party where you only know the hostess. You:


linger near the buffet table -- you'd rather ditch your diet than be forced to talk to strangers!

b. start chatting about your day to the person next to you.

c. step up to a group of people who look interesting and make a relevant comment at a good moment.

Instant insight Sure, it's not much fun when you don't know anyone, but don't abandon this opportunity to meet new people. Survey the scene and target people who seem approachable, opting for a smaller group over a larger one. When it appears that the conversation is at a lull, move up and introduce yourself. "Just be natural and open," says Judith McManus, president of Judith McManus, L.L.C., and a business-communication coach in Tucson, Ariz. "Tell the group you're new, then ask open-ended questions [those that can't be answered yes or no] as people introduce themselves."

2. You've just returned from an amazing trip to Hawaii that you're dying to tell your friends about. You:

a. say nothing. Who really cares about your trip anyway?

b. carry on about the trip to anyone who will listen to you.

c. introduce the topic, then engage others about trips they've taken.

Instant insight Sharing a personal story, especially one that excites you, may help start new conversations. Just be careful that you don't focus all the attention on yourself. Also, avoid what Susanne Gaddis, Ph.D., a professional speaker and executive coach in Chapel Hill, N.C., calls one-OOPS (our own personal story)-manship. "If you're always taking the bigger adventure or getting the better deal, you're one-OOPSing people," Gaddis says. Instead, share your story and then balance the conversation by asking if anybody else has been to Hawaii or has exciting trips on the horizon. "Strive for good conversational balance by talking 40 percent of the time and listening 60 percent," Gaddis says.

3. You're standing around with three other women at a get-together when you notice that one of them isn't talking. You:

a. feel for her; after all, you're not contributing much yourself.

b. carry on with the conversation, figuring she'll jump in.

c. engage her by making eye contact, smiling and asking her a question.

Instant insight Watch the woman's body language and see if you can sense what she's feeling. Does she seem satisfied just listening? If she appears uncomfortable or intimidated, engage her attention and then break into a one-on-one chat. Keep the conversation light. "Humor is a wonderful tool for any situation, especially if you're trying to draw someone out," McManus says.

4. You're chatting with an acquaintance who won't stop talking about herself. You:

a. listen politely.

b. tune her out and look for an excuse to ditch the conversation.

c. jump in when you can and take the chance to tell your story.

Instant insight The savvy conversationalist engages in a balance of observing, asking and revealing. Although posing questions does get conversations rolling, asking too many forces you to give up the floor. "So many times we think people are hogging the conversation, but instead, we've just given up our turn to speak," says Susan RoAne, a communication consultant in San Francisco and author of How to Create Your Own Luck (John Wiley & Sons, 2004). The fix? Ask a question, listen to her response, then jump in to tell your story. If she still won't let you speak, ask a question that will elicit a simple yes or no response and then take your turn.

5. At your co-worker's dinner party, you've been seated next to a man you don't know. You've introduced yourself, but you can't get the conversation going. You:

a. spend most of the evening chowing down in silence.

b. make miscellaneous comments about the food or guests, regardless of whether he seems interested.

c. introduce several different topics throughout the night in an attempt to get him to open up about himself.

Instant insight If you're stuck sitting next to this man, having a friendly conversation might make your meal more bearable. First, open with a simple, "Hi, how are you doing?" Then ask questions that elicit factual responses, such as, "How do you know the hostess?" or "Where do you live?" If you still get little response from him, keep jumping to different topics until you find a place to connect.


If you answered mostly A's, you're:

> Seriously Shy Or maybe you simply lack confidence. First off, ditch the notion that nobody cares about what you have to say or that you don't have anything to contribute. So that you always have conversation starters, subscribe to a newspaper or see the latest movies and come to gatherings with three topics in mind.

If you answered mostly B's, you're:

> Dominating the Discussion Get over yourself and quit controlling conversations. While people do want to hear your stories, they also want to share theirs. Give other people a chance to talk -- their words will reveal what they're interested in discussing.

If you answered mostly C's, you're:

> Gifted at Gabbing You do more listening than talking, and your biggest strength is making people feel like you're focused only on them when they're speaking. No doubt you're on everyone's guest list, so be careful not to spread yourself too thin this holiday season!