Are you bracing yourself for that family dinner or holiday party where you will be asked about the job you no longer have, baited into a political argument or receive free, unwanted advice?
Here are five conversation strategies that work very well in any context and can especially useful when you want to divert the conversation.
As you head into your seasonal event, think more about listening than talking.
All people want to feel heard and understood.
Get the other person talking about themselves, their life, their interests, and their challenges, and you can reroute any topics that you’d rather not discuss!
Some easy phrases that will go well with your natural curiosity:
“So then what happened?”
Your body language is equally if not more important.
At any moment you have the power to step into the conversation and shift it. It all happens with powerful questions.
For example: Instead of arguing back what you think about a topic, probe deeper into understanding what the other person thinks, and why. You can ask, “How did you form that opinion?”
Powerful questions invite a person to think about something further or to probe deeper.
They often start with “How?” or “Why?”
Or, you may just rather talk about something entirely different. Just ask a question like – “What is the best thing that happened to you in the last week?”
Or you can ask “What do you think about the new Star Wars movie?” or “Where is your favorite place to order a pastrami sandwich?”
“So you’re saying that they should have given you more time because…” You might feel a little like a parrot, but hearing back from the other person in the conversations lets the speaker know that you are listening and caring. That is all anyone really wants. Most of the time it gives them permission to keep talking.
Unless you are talking to a sociopath or psychopath you can find a glimmer of vulnerability and humanity in each person as they talk about their stories and their challenges.
Try this: if there was going to a movie made about the speaker, who would you cast in that role?
How would the audience empathize with that character?
What pain can you notice beneath the anger or negative energy?
Whether the suggestion above worked for you or not, you can use these words in a conversation: “That sounds really hard.”
So often when someone is telling us about the challenges they just want to be heard and understood.
They just want some empathy. And it’s almost always true.
If it isn’t then they want acknowledgment or affirmation in a different way: Like:
“That sounds awesome!”
“That sounds hopeful.”
People don’t want our advice, they don’t want our suggestions, or want us to fix anything. (Isn’t that why you are reading this article in the first place?)
They want someone to understand them. You may have an entirely different world view, but you can still acknowledge the pain of where they are within their own worldview.
Armed with these five strategies, you can deflect topics that you’d rather not discuss. When you are the one with the questions, you can steer the conversation in a new direction.
Let me know how it goes!