Thursday, May 25, 2017

What do you say when...

I am an introvert. I hate talking on the phone, talking to new people, and events where socializing is key. That being said, I am a teacher who calls the parents of every student I have in the beginning of the year. I was a PTA president and now have risen to the role as region director where I get to talk with new people all the time. It is intimidating and uncomfortable, but easier now than it was a dozen years ago. I also have a son on the spectrum who struggles with conversation. He's good with a monologue, but a conversation is so much more challenging. Therefore I was intrigued when I saw Florence Isaacs' book, What do You Say When... Talking to People with Confidence on any social or business occasion. This book is organized into four parts: the basics, social occasions, business and professional occasions and other times for conversations.

The basics normalizes social anxiety. We easily fall into the role of I am the only uncomfortable one here. I will embarrass myself. I know no one. Let me be a wall flower until I can leave. Getting out of that rut is hard but important. This book is more about starting a conversation than carrying it on. If your communication partner is not a great conversationalist, you will still struggle.

A few key ideas from the book.
  • If you are talking to someone you don't know: start with an open ended questions, or comment with a question.
    • I love the gardens here. What do you think? What is your favorite part?
    • What did you think of the speaker today?
    • Where are you headed? What is your favorite place to visit there? or What did you do that you would recommend to others?
    • How do you know Penelope?
  • If you are talking to someone you've met before:
    • I know I've met you but old age must be hitting because I can't remember your name. I'm Susan and you are...?
    • How are your children? Your youngest was practicing for a play (soccer tournament, recital,...), how did that go?
    • How is the house hunting/remodeling going?

The if you know ones are more challenging because you need to remember information about specific people. I liked the author's idea about keeping a rolodex (or maybe an electronic file) about the people you meet and reviewing it before you go to an event they might attend. An updated file helps keep track of things my mind at least struggles with. I suspect many a sales person, dentist and hair stylist does this to help keep track of clients.

Another idea she pitches that I've heard elsewhere is to wear or have something comment worthy on you to spark conversation. I have a rather large collection of statement shoes and earrings. They give people an opening that can help get things started. Other items might be a tie or pen that can be commented on. If you are doing it for that role, perhaps the potential conversational partner is as well. Commenting on the interesting colored stripes in someone's hair might be a great opener.

The author also points out something that I heard on Dr. Phil recently. Don't answer a thoughtful question without thinking. Give yourself a moment to process. In schools we call this wait time. We need to do it in serious conversations like job interviews and conferences as well. If you are formulating your response as the speaker is finishing a statement, you might miss a critical point.

While this book was an interesting read and there are pieces I might use with a student with extreme anxiety, it is not really meant to be read cover to cover. If I can get my son to read the first two chapters, he might have an easier time with starting to speak. This book is a soft text, not right for many, but did reiterate some good ideas that I know I will use, especially if I review pertinent sections prior to an event. That is really the ideal way to utile it.

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