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How to keep a conversation going

One of the quotes that embodies my approach to growth in life is summed up beautifully in the quote by Charlie “Tremendous” Jones:

“You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read.”

Every day we walk by people that we may never meet again. We ask to sit in a spot at a table occupied by others. We hold open a door for someone carrying a bag of groceries. All of these situations give us chances to interact with people who have had experiences we won’t have ourselves.

The word sonder is not one you will find in a dictionary, but it is a word invented by John Koenig to describe something quite thought provoking. From his website:

The realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.

When you meet someone new in your life, it would be of great benefit to believe that person knows something that could impact your life in a positive way.

If we go through our life viewing everyone in this way, then it becomes obvious that we have a lot to learn from others. The longer we can keep them talking the more we can learn from them.

Here are some ideas you can use next time you get into a conversation you want to keep going.

  1. Often when someone says something about anything they have just scratched the surface of what they can say about it. Give them the opportunity to say more. Always follow up with “Tell me more about that? ”
  2. When someone says something you don’t agree with, don’t argue. Instead say “Hmm, that’s interesting. Tell me why you think that?”
  3. Pay attention to what they are saying. Not on how you want to respond. If you want to keep a conversation going for a long time you should develop curiosity towards the other person. This begins by hearing what they are saying.
  4. When you find out something is important to someone, keep the conversation there. Often this is something they know a lot about, and also feel deeply about. These are the topics that keep conversations going past 3AM when a group of people have met for the first time.
  5. Ask them to talk about a book they recently read. Books contain many ideas. You can keep a conversation going for hours often by relying on this one idea.
  6. People want their life to mean something. Bring the things they value most in life to the surface, then help them realize how they can manifest this.
  7. Ask them about their life philosophy. How do they approach life to get the most out of it? Learning how to live a better life is something we should never stop thinking about. Talking about this will sprout many seeds for further conversation ideas.
  8. If you notice a relationship they particularly treasure, ask them about how they met that person and how that meeting improved their life. People love to say good things about others given the chance.
  9. Focus on what they love. People can talk for a long time about what they love, and they will enjoy doing it. When people are enjoying a conversation they will be willing to make it last longer than they intended.
  10. Make the other person feel like what they have to say is important to you. People don’t want to feel like what they’re saying isn’t being taken seriously.
  11. Life changing conversations involve a sharing of ideas. After you’re done talking about something see if you can find a way to ask for their unique perspective on what you were talking about. New perspectives breed new ideas.
  12. Though you may not share this with the other person, turn the conversation into a game. Everyone knows something you don’t. Try to reach a new personal best of how many things you can learn from someone in a given conversation.
  13. Show interest in their culture and heritage. People will often talk about their background and culture if the other person shows interest. This can also lead to new ideas for things to do in your own life. This question can in particular change the person who asks it.
  14. If a conversation is flowing well into one topic, but another topic just came to your head, let it go. If you’re on a video call, maybe write a note down about it for later. If you’re physically there mention you want to write something down so you don’t forget to ask about it.
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