How do you strike up a conversation with a stranger? A good conversation typically follows a four-phase process. Once you and the person with whom you are speaking feel comfortable talking and want to continue the conversation, you can go on to the next phase. Don’t expect to go through all four phases the first time you speak. Take your time and enjoy the conversation.
Phase I: Small talk
Don’t underestimate small talk. It is how you get comfortable with another person and decide whether you want to continue the conversation. Look for things you have in common, such as “How has your day at work been?” “Have you been to a Toastmasters meeting before?” “Are you looking forward to Labor Day weekend?” The two of you can decide whether you have something in common to talk about and want to continue.
Phase II: Fact disclosure
At this phase, you get to know each other better. Share simple facts about each other, but avoid getting personal: “I’ve been with the company since last November.” “I play golf once a week.” “I’ve been saving the state quarters for my kids.” Here is where you find things in common to talk about.
Phase III: Viewpoints and opinions
At this point, you might feel comfortable enough with each other to share your viewpoints and opinions. Build on the simple facts you talked about at the previous stage: “I enjoy working here.” “I’ve had the best luck with Callaway clubs.” “I think the state quarters are a great idea.” At this phase, avoid sharing your views on personal and controversial topics, such as your religious beliefs, political opinions, or personal problems.
Phase IV: Personal feelings
It is only after you and the person with whom you are talking have gained considerable comfort and trust with each other that you can progress to this phase. At this point, you can talk about more personal facts and feelings than you have been able to before. Don’t expect to reach this level of intimacy with everyone you meet.
Good conversation is an act of sharing between you and the person with whom you’re speaking. Be willing to give as well as take, and be willing to listen as well as speak.