In a recent post, Culinary Conversations, I urged for everyone to make a sincere attempt at listening and asking questions during conversation rather than defaulting to talking and giving opinions. Now, in this post, I will outline a more specific technique which, if adopted, will provide a tangible way to put this same “first talk, then listen” disposition into practice. This technique is called The Delayed ‘Me Too.’
To see how it works, join me in this familiar scenario… You are at a company event when you begin conversing with an acquaintance. Maybe it is the first time you and this acquaintance have ever spoken outside of normal work talk, or maybe it’s not. Nevertheless, your conversation naturally requires some small-talk-gymnastics as you seek for points of commonality that you can both enjoy discussing. You ask how she likes the food and then what she has been up to recently. Both questions come out of a need to fill space, eliminate awkwardness, and create a pleasant conversational experience. Then, as you both begin to open up, the conversation moves deeper and you start sharing details about your personal lives.
Finally, the acquaintance tells you a new fact about herself, something you didn’t know before and are excited to hear because with this new information you now have something in common. How exciting. Maybe she says, “I’m from Minnesota originally,” and, as irony would have it, you too are also from Minnesota. Or maybe she says, “I used to play the saxophone,” and again, it seems serendipitous (does it not?) because you also played the saxophone as a kid. Enthusiasm overwhelms you because there is more in common here than you first realized.
Okay, now for the technique, The Delayed ‘Me Too.’
When an acquaintance informs you of a fact about him or herself which is a common point between the two of you do not say anything about your commonality. Yes, that’s right, do not immediately blurt out “Wow! I’m from Minnesota too!” and don’t barge in with “No kidding! I used to play the saxophone too!”
No, as unnatural as it may feel at first, don’t tell her that you have this in common, yet. Instead, listen or you ask more questions. Make this moment entirely about your acquaintance and not, even a little bit, about yourself. You may ask which part of Minnesota she grew up in or why she relocated? You may ask if she still plays the saxophone or why she ever stopped playing? For a period of time, maybe for 20 seconds or maybe 20 minutes, you will withhold divulging your point of commonality altogether.
Finally, when the moment has passed, when she has felt that you were completely listening to the information she shared about herself and when she will have good reason to believe that you truly care about her as a person, only then will you connect the dots. This can be minutes later or even hours. “You know, I’m actually from Minnesota too,” you will say, or, “Hey, I forgot to mention this but I actually played the sax as a kid too!” This technique has a surprisingly powerful way of building rapport.
Some people may question using techniques in conversation, believing at first that using a technique on another person is tricky or deceitful. However, I believe otherwise. Sure, it may feel unnatural at first, as if you are hiding something or playing a game, but you will discover that by practicing such techniques your conversations will naturally become more focused on others. Furthermore, those others will recognize and appreciate your selfless nature. You will be seen as someone who genuinely cares about others, rather than a self-interested person who seeks to make every conversation about yourself. In practice this is true as well, you actually begin putting yourself aside and giving freely a sort of conversational generosity.
Conversely, if you blurt out “me too!” before a person can even finish her sentence, it is like, as a friend explained to me recently, slamming your hand over a spinning coin. In any conversation you have three choices:
- Let the coin keep spinning until it runs out of momentum. This is like listening intently until it is your moment to speak.
- Flick the coin with your finger and keep it spinning. Asking questions, probing, and showing interest in order to urge your counterpart to keep talking.
- Slam the coin under your palm and completely stop it from spinning. Interrupt, talk about yourself, dominate the conversation.
Which do you think will bring you greater joy?
Please leave a comment if you are able to put The Delayed ‘Me Too’ into action. I would enjoy hearing if this works for you.