Getting to know people before initiating a conversation is not always practical. More often than not, it is a combination of the persons appearance and mannerisms combined with a simple gut instinct. There is never really enough time to get to know someone before talking to them. That would require a conversation – quite a paradox.
I try to be completely unbiased and to not let past experiences with the same personality type get in the way. Instead, I take the person at face value and make a decision based on what I see, hear, and sense. Ive become very good at this, and I can usually pick up on something negative in very short order.
Whether it is a group or an individual, I can sum them up quickly by their words and actions. Most times, all I need to do is walk past people – listening and observing. Other times, I can get a feel for a persons mannerisms from across the room. Body language speaks volumes here.
What do I look for in potential conversationalists? Well, intelligence and a down to earth personality – Someone that appears happy and easy going and seems to be genuine. However, Im always mindful of the fact that a lot of conversations are initiated and maintained for more superficial reasons. There are those that crave conversation with others of a perceived higher social standing. It makes them feel good to be considered conversation worthy by people that they admire. I cant relate to this level of phoniness.
I suppose I rate people subconsciously. The highest (most favorable) rating would be given to those unpretentious, intelligent, and genuine individuals. Those that do not have a hidden agenda and enjoy a good chat with no strings attached. The lowest rating would be given to attention-seeking, aggressive, social climbers.
I avoid loud, boisterous people for many reasons. Although, I suppose its mainly their lack of sincerity. Ive found that what they are usually looking for is attention, and not good conversation. Besides, they seem to take an instant dislike to me for some reason. Could it be that they see no advantage in socializing with a perceived nobody? Remember, people pick up on body language and other non-verbal signs long before you open your mouth.
Ok, so once Ive singled out a few individuals, how do I go about making that initial contact?
Well, once Ive determined that there is no threat to approaching a particular individual, I might start by asking a question. It doesnt matter what the question is, as long as its relevant. The more confident I am of a favorable outcome, the more I am likely to step out of my comfort zone.
If I am unsure of the individual, I might start with something like asking for the time, or the location of the washroom. This is my ultra-safe mode – very easy to escape from if things dont go right. My senses are on high alert at this point and I evaluate the situation second by second. The response I get determines how I will proceed. There is a danger here of being overly sensitive and misinterpreting someones words or body language. Proper evaluation is critical.
If I sense more of a connection, I might go with something like:
Hi, Im Drew, I work with¦
Hopefully, this is followed by:
Oh, hi, Im¦
They certainly couldnt have asked for better weather today.
Afterwards, I might follow up with:
So, how long have you known *insert name of host here*?
The few seconds before actual verbal communication are critical. I find that eye contact and a friendly smile is an absolute must. You cannot approach a stranger and start talking without putting something on the table. People do not react favorably to being approached by someone that looks depressed and refuses to make eye contact. I am convinced that this is hardwired into our genes. Dont assume that people will sense your social phobia, take pity on you, and cut you some slack. Why not? Well, they dont know you – simple as that. At this stage everyone is on the same level playing field, and social protocol demands that you approach in a friendly manner.
Again, Im no expert. Im simply telling you what works, and what doesnt work, for me.