Do you know how to start a GENUINE conversation?

Something that is not taught in schools, but is believed to be taught in society is how to have a conversation. This is a false belief. Think about it, how do you start a conversation? Is it usually with a “Hi, how are you?”, or “So, where are you from?” How is this working out for you? Typically you will engage in a short bout of simple exchange and end up in an awkward silence especially if you are not intentionally starting a conversation for business purposes. If you are intentionally meeting people for business purposes, this initial courtesy may be extended long enough to get to the point of your meeting, but then it not really as genuine as it could be and definitely not as productive as it could be.

There is the “old fashioned” expression that state ‘people love talking about themselves’. This is true. Look at Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Linkedin…society promotes narcissism to a large extent. Here are some quick pointers that will make any random, chance, or intended meeting become genuine and fruitful if not on a business level, then on a personal level.

1. Find something about the person that you REALLY appreciate. Their education, shoes, watch, attitude, etc. This requires sincerity on your part and may require some observation or in a case of a business meeting, homework. If you cannot find anything, you are not in the right mind…please realize you cannot fake this.

2. Introduce yourself by acknowledging what you appreciate of the person. This lowers barriers, and if in a group will give you opportunity to introduce yourself to others in the circle just because of the way you introduced yourself to one of the people in the group. Usually, this will oblige the person to socially introduce you to their circle. Again, sincerity is the core of this process.

3. Open Ended Questions. Most people are taught that an open-ended question is a question that cannot be answered with a “Yes” or “No”. I would encourage you to take this a bit further as it does REQUIRE YOU TO PRACTICE! Let’s define Open Ended Questions as: A Question that cannot be answered with a “Yes”, “No”, “Maybe”, or with less than 3 words.

This is vital because you want to create an engagement which requires the other party to turn off their “autopilot”. You do this autopilot conversation everyday; someone passes you in the office and says, “How are you doing?” and you automatically respond with, “If I were doing any better, there would be 2 of me.” The question did not force you to think, you had an automatic response. Our current social communication paradigm teaches engages in conversation that result in an attempt to gain an instant definitive. In other words, most of our conversations are geared to arrive at a conclusion or black/white answer from the onset…where as you want to create an engagement of gathering information and building a relationship with this person or persons.

Here are some examples:

What do you suggest when looking for…?

What brought you to want to do…?

If I were to try to do X, what suggestions would you have for me?

What were some of the exciting event you experienced in accomplishing…?

When you went to X, what was most surprising to you?

As you can see, this requires the other party to think, turning off their “autopilot”.

4. Listen and listen carefully. Ask them to describe in further detail or to expound on a subject. It is a key to establishing trust. I know it does not make sense, but trust is built on a feeling of security and acknowledgement. You are demonstrating total acknowledgement by doing this. Again, be genuine and sincere.

5. Test the waters. After a comfortable engagement, when you ask an open-ended question, the person will give an answer. You will naturally want to ask more or talk yourself. Do not do it. If you have asked a good open-ended question and they have ended their response, look at them as if expecting more and if you have established turning off the autopilot, they will carry on and give more details. Yes, you will feel uncomfortable at first, but when you see how this works you will find it a great tool for business.

In sales, I usually find that most of the what a client is telling me is not the whole story or even the true story. This does not mean they are lying or being dishonest, but that they may not have had an opportunity to discuss this and are working it out in their heads. In my discovery time where I am asking questions about what they want to accomplish, what they liked best, what they have now that they will feel sad about giving up, etc…when they answer, i will pause for at least a count of 5 or 7 seconds after they finish. Most always, they will talk more and when they talk, it’s not able to have had time to filter and you get more real answers this way. You will find you can do this on the same question 2 or 3 times. The surprising thing is the first part of the answer is almost always the fluff and the real answer is after the 2nd or 3rd pause. Again, be sincere. These steps require you to think, listen, search, pause when you don’t want to, study, practice, and have fun!

Please feel free to visit my other blog at as well. Thanks for your comments and feedback.


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  1. #1 by Darlena on January 26, 2012 - 12:47 am

    This reminds me of a lesson I read about in Ron Clark’s The End of Molassess Classes. He has 50 members of the local community come in and practice shaking hands with each student. The community members grade the children on all sorts of things and then discuss with the kids what they should work on. I think a similar lesson in which children are taught the art of beginning conversations (maybe in addition to introductions) is a life skill they will really use. Thanks for posting.

    Darlena O.

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