Some people are said to possess the “gift of gab.” They seem to instinctively know how to keep a conversation flowing–and they don’t mind if the other participants are not particularly verbose. They can carry a “conversation” by themselves if needed. They don’t worry much about saying the wrong thing–if they talk themselves into a corner, they’ll talk themselves out of it.
This skill does not come easily to everybody. For some, just the aspect of a social gathering is a stressful and anxious process. They worry about what say, how to say it, and what if someone misunderstands (see “What Do You Do When You Have Been Misunderstood?”)…or they just don’t know how to get a conversation going. For some, it’s easy to discuss what they know and are involved with–for others, it’s preferable to take the focus off of themselves.
Ideally, depending on our mood or how distracted/busy we are at the moment, we signal whether we are open to conversation or not. Others may or may not notice and respond to these signals. It often happens that we are unintentionally mixing our signals in such a way that produces uncertainty of response.
Even when we think we are being open, we may be exhibiting non-verbal signs that we don’t really want to be bothered. For example, I remember attending a conference and as I was looking for a place to sit, there was a gentleman sitting next to an open seat. As I approached, the table, it became more apparent to me that he was not interested in connecting or engaging with anyone. As I sat down, he positioned his back towards me, turned his head away, and looked in the other direction. A few minutes later, since the conference hadn’t started, I quickly contemplated whether I should excuse myself, and find another open seat. I simply wasn’t interested in “convincing” someone who did not want to engage to do so. But, for some reason, after that initial thought, I said to myself, let me confirm whether he is truly closed off by initiating conversation. I noticed his name tag and called him by his name. I asked him about himself, and in a few minutes, we were excitedly engaged in connected conversation. I was shocked at what we had in common, and as it was time for the conference to begin, he did not want our conversation end.
It takes courage to continue to approach or engage with someone when they give you non-verbal signals that they don’t want to be bothered.
In this example, the gentleman warmed up after the second question, and what ensued was a delightful conversation. Maybe he intended to be closed off initially and had a mental shift in his mind like I did, or maybe he simply was uncomfortable and shifted his back towards me as I sat down to gain a better position. Who knows?
The lesson here today is two-fold. 1). Be mindful of the signals you are giving off. Is your door open? Is your body language showing that you are open for conversation, or is it closed off? Think of a time when someone was open and approachable, what did they do? Did they make eye-contact, smile, position their body towards you, slow down their pace? 2). Have the courage to engage. Start with good intent until you’ve been proven otherwise.
A possibly counter-intuitive finding is that people who are not much inclined to be very talkative themselves (often introverts) can actually be very easy to talk to–because they are particularly good listeners. In Psychology Today’s “Why it’s so easy to Talk to an Introvert” Susan Krauss Witbourne describes, “Because they listen more than they talk, people in high introversion may also draw out their social companions more easily into conversations.” They are non-competitive conversationalists.
There is an unpredictability factor anytime we are involved with others, and we can’t always figure out what we’re doing to attract or put someone off–but don’t assume that a rejection will be followed by more rejections. Change your atmosphere, consider your attitudes, and the next encounter might be a different story.