Breaking the Ice

I bet all you East Coast subscribers would like to know how to “break the ice” right about now!  I’m sorry, I don’t have any tips for sending our West Coast early Spring temps to your side of the country, but I do have a few awesome reminders for how to break the proverbial “initial conversation ice” when you are meeting someone for the very first time. Speaking of the weather, it’s a safe subject to be sure, but there are so many more interesting and powerful ways to kick off a great conversation.

Communication experts have long said that we literally have a few seconds to create a great first impression.  When you welcome a new patient to your practice, speak to a potential new client, meet a new colleague at a convention or a new friend at a party, you are all hoping to create a great first opinion of ourselves and quickly unlock any potential for an enjoyable, and even lucrative, relationship.

Have you ever walked away from meeting someone for the first time and said, “Well, that was awkward”  or “I’m not sure why, but I just don’t trust or care for that person”?  Likewise, have you ever had the experience of not wanting a fresh conversation with a new acquaintance to end so quickly or walking away from one feeling positive and appreciated?  In business and in life, there is a tremendous up-side to mastering the art of conversation, especially when meeting someone for the very first time.  Here are my tips for making sure you’re known for being a great conversationalist!

Top 5 Conversation Killers:

1) Negativity – “I don’t really like my job.”  “The industry seems to be in a slump.”  “It’s hard to move up in this profession.” Anything, absolutely anything, negative is a deal breaker when it comes to creating a great first impression. Don’t discuss health issues or personal adversities during your initial conversation.

2)  Politics, Religion, and Sex – You’ve heard this one before, but it bears repeating!  Nothing tanks a conversation or your credibility faster than bold statements about your particular world views.  For starters, it’s completely egocentric, and secondly, of course, it’s ripe with possibilities for disagreement, judgment, and even disdain:  all bad footings for a blossoming professional or personal relationship.  Steer away from statements or questions such as “Who did you vote for?” “What’s your stance on immigration?” “I’m a devout Catholic,”  “I’m a Republican,” or any comments about your sexual orientation.

3)  Fees and Money – Money, salary, or professional fees are very touchy subjects and often very personal. Asking someone how much they make or charge is just plain rude and unthinkable on a first social encounter.

4)  Personal appearance – You’ll likely only have to make the mistake once of asking an overweight or oddly-shaped woman when her baby is due to know this is a faux pau worth avoiding at all costs.  Mentioning anything about their personal appearance is risky as you just don’t have enough information or context on a first meeting to know the particulars about their situation.  For example, have they just gained or lost weight due to an illness, personal situation or stress, or maybe they have been financially strapped and are now self-conscious about the state of their professional wardrobe?  Also, avoid any statements about being surprised by their appearance in any way, such as “You look different than your photo in the directory” or “You look taller than I was expecting.”

5) Me, Myself, and I – The absolute most common mistake of all conversation killers is someone who is egocentric and focuses the entire conversation on themselves and their work and life. There is one subject that everyone is an expert on and always interested in… and that is themselves.  Get good at the ping pong game of conversation by answering their questions of you completely, sincerely, and briefly and then lobbing the ball back to them with a question about their interests, work, or opinions and experiences of the subject at hand.

Top 5 Conversation Starters:

It’s always a safe bet to ask questions about the other person’s:

  1. Interests, hobbies, or favorite sports teams.
  2. Business Group or Event: Their relationship to this group, how long they’ve been a member, what inspired them to join or maybe their take on the event’s speakers or top industry issues.
  3. Geography: It could be their take on the city of this conference or about how they feel about their own hometown. People also love to talk about their favorite places to travel or where they most dream of traveling and why.

Remember, conversation should be natural, organic, and authentic.  You’ll likely dig deeper, reveal more, and take greater risks in conversation as your relationship develop and as trust and commonality are built. But for starting a fresh conversation with a brand new person, especially professionally, these tips will serve you well!

Happy connecting!

“Conversation about the weather is the last refuge of the unimaginative.”

~ Oscar Wilde

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