Today I’m attending a fundraising event where lots of wonderful women will show up to support a good cause–and also, to cruise each other. Most will put serious energy into looking good, and many will make the eye-contact-and-smiling connection that creates an opportunity for a conversation with a potential date.
Then the fun stops. What if I can’t think of anything to talk about? What if she thinks I’m boring? What if I sound stupid?
Two guidelines: First, just do it anyway. At best, you’ll make a nice connection. At worst, you’ll feel crushed or trapped. Oh wait–that’s pretty drastic. I meant to say, you may have some temporary moments of disappointment, but you won’t die. Really, it’s true–everyone strikes out some of the time, but you can’t get on base if you won’t step up to bat.
The second guideline takes some thought: Practice reciprocal conversations. In other words, you should talk about 50% of the time, listen the other 50%. I’m serious. This is important, for many reasons. Some of us talk too much, others too little, and how you balance these can predict how your relationship will go.
A friend told me about her first date with a talker. After silently getting more and more irritated, my friend said “Do you know we’ve been sitting here an hour and a half and you haven’t asked me anything about myself?” Not surprisingly, her date was embarrassed, but had the grace to turn it around. She said she talks when she’s nervous, and hadn’t realized she was monopolizing the conversation. They actually wound up dating for awhile, and the communication was more balanced after that initial debacle.
I’d like to point out that the reason it turned around was because my friend spoke up. If she had sat quietly listening, and fuming, her date would have never known she was being such a turn-off. I say this because many women will excuse ongoing chatter by saying “maybe she’s just nervous.” Of course she’s nervous–so are you, but there are other ways to cope without chattering. And letting her go on and on doesn’t bode well for a relationship, unless you’re really okay with not having a voice. I hope that’s not true.
To be fair, listeners can create a giant vacuum by not speaking. No one likes awkward silences, and talkers may sincerely think they’re helping the cause by filling the air time. So if you’re a listener, your job is to push yourself to talk more. Talk about yourself, your impressions of the event, your reasons for being there, your job, your friends–whatever, just talk.
Most listeners worry about sounding dumb when they talk. But I’ve learned, from personal experience, not to worry. Most people don’t listen with a critical ear, looking for flaws in how well you articulate. What they notice is that you’re active and engaged in the conversation. And if they’re normal, they like this.
It’s true that some people are not normal, they’re “unique.” Their own stories and opinions are uniquely fascinating, at least to themselves, so nothing you could offer would be worthy of their attention. Here’s your first clue: You begin to feel one-down, uninteresting, depressed. If you don’t want to feel that way all of the time, don’t hook up with this person.
Recently someone wrote me a “Thanks for the 50-50 rule.” Usually a listener, she’d been pushing herself to talk more on her dates, and guess what? She feels more interesting! I give credit to her for stretching herself, and to her date for being able to stop talking and listen more. This is great conversation!