Are You Curious About Becoming Better At Conversations?

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There is a guy who I met in Pittsburgh who is my favorite person ever to have a conversation with over lunch or coffee. It wasn’t the content of any one conversation, it’s that we could have a conversation about most anything that interested us. And, get this - we could even talk about politics or religion without someone walking off in a righteous huff.

It helps that he is a pretty intelligent dude, but that’s not what makes him great at conversations. It is his curiosity.

Conversations can be difficult because we often approach another person with a goal in mind; we may want to convince them of something, or it could be as simple as wanting that person to like us. The problems start as soon as we open our mouths.

If the agenda is focused on somehow projecting what you want, don’t be surprised if “listen to me” is not actually all that interesting to the other person, no matter how interesting you think you are.

It shouldn’t be a secret that curious people make far better conversationalists. The primary agenda of a curious person is not about them, although they almost always benefit with new knowledge and better relationships.

In one study by Todd Kashdan of George Mason University and his colleagues, results showed that people in conversations felt closer to curious participants than those who were less curious. From Kashdan:

“When you show curiosity and you ask questions, and find out something interesting about another person, people disclose more, share more, and they return the favor, asking questions of you. It sets up a spiral of give and take, which fosters intimacy.”

Interestingly, in a study conducted in Japan, researchers found that curious people were also better able to handle rejection. This means that curious people are less likely to avoid social situations that may have negative connotations, another trait that makes them more likable.

If your curiosity has gotten you this far into the article, I want to provide some tips on how to use these tidbits to rock every conversation every time.

Curiosity is a mindset. This means that you don’t have to wait till the mood hits you - you can prepare for the encounter in a way that sets it up to be productive for everyone. Come up with questions about what you don’t know rather than expounding on what you do know.

Brian Grazer, in his book “A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life”, is a film and TV producer that has met with hundreds of people to hear fascinating stories. That doesn’t mean it comes easy. He has this advice about how to have a curiosity conversation (pp. 260-262):

  • Be clear that you want to hear their story. You’re not looking for a job, you’re not looking for advice about your own situation or any challenges you’re facing. You’re curious about them.

  • Think in advance about what you’d most hope to get out of the conversation, and think of a handful of open-ended questions that will get the person talking about what you’re most interested in. Don’t be a slave to your prepared questions. Be just the opposite: Listen closely, and be a good conversationalist. Pick up on what the person you’re talking to is saying, and ask questions that expand on the stories they tell or the points they make.

  • If you’re talking, you’re not learning about the other person.

  • Be grateful. Don’t just say thank you, give the best compliment for a conversation like this: ‘That was so interesting.’

I hope you are curious enough to try it out for yourself. Make sure you have at least one curiosity conversation every day and you may be amazed at what you get back in return.