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How to Be Someone People Love to Talk To | TIME

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Don’t take the cliche advice and “just be yourself.” Put some effort into being warm and open.

Ironically, studies show putting your best foot forward actually reveals the real you:

In sum, positive self-presentation facilitates more accurate impressions, indicating that putting one’s best self forward helps reveal one’s true self.

Smiles are powerful and make you more attractive. From Dale Carnegie to peer-reviewed studies, everyone says smiles matter. (In fact, to increase their power, smile slower.)

FBI behavior expert Robin Dreeke recommends speaking slowly.

Encourage People To Talk About Themselves

People who have trouble making conversation always say the same thing: “But what do I talk about?

Wrong question. The right question is “How do I get them talking about themselves?

It gives their brain as much pleasure as food or money.

And when they open up, don’t judge. Nobody — including you — likes to feel judged.

FBI behavior expert Robin Dreeke’s #1 piece of advice: “Seek someone else’s thoughts and opinions without judging them.”

Listen — And Make Sure They Know You’re Listening

The difference is you want to engage in “active listening.” Just keeping quiet and nodding isn’t enough.

FBI hostage negotiators use a number of techniques to show kidnappers they are really paying attention:

  • Mirroring: Repeat the last 1-3 words the person just said as a question. (Yes, it’s that simple.)
  • Paraphrasing: Repeat what they just said in your own words.
  • Labeling: Put a name on what they say they’re feeling. “Sounds like you’re feeling pressured.”

A little game I like to play is “Can I summarize what the person just said to their satisfaction?” If you repeat back the gist of what they communicated and they respond, “Exactly” you’re doing great.

(To learn FBI hostage negotiation techniques, click here.)

The Conversation Must Progress

Sometime conversations fizzle and it’s reaaaaaaally awkward. Why does this happen? What can we do about it?

Conversations have a natural progression, much like a relationship.

There’s a hierarchy of vulnerability in the types of communication we have, each one being more open and more likely to lead to a solid connection:

  • Phatic: These statements have no emotional content: “How are you?”
  • Factual: These share information, maybe personal information, but no strong opinions or emotions are involved: “I live in New York.”
  • Evaluative: These statements show opinions, but they’re not core beliefs:“That movie was really funny.”
  • Gut-level: Here’s where it heats up. The first three are thought-oriented. Gut-level communication is emotionally based. It’s personal, says something deeper about who you are and is focused on feelings: “I’m sad that you’re not here.”
  • Peak: The most emotionally vulnerable level. Peak statements share your innermost feelings. “…feelings that are deeply revealing and carry the most risk in terms how the other person will respond.” These statements are rare, even with people we are very close to: “I guess at heart I’m terrified I’m going to lose you.”

The authors of Click spell it out clearly: “We can help to create magical connections simply by elevating the language we use from the phatic to the peak level.”

(For FBI methods that can help you negotiate lower bills, click here.)

How To Say Goodbye

There are a number of phrases that can politely signal the end of a chat. It’s smart to memorize one or two of these.

Via The Art of Conversation: A Guided Tour of a Neglected Pleasure:

Arrangements: Talk of the Next rings the knell for Now.

Any statement starting “Finally,” “Lastly”: Suggests an agenda is nigh complete.

Satisfied Customer: A labeling comment to convey a job has been ticked off the list, “Well, I just wanted to check everything was okay.”

Farewell by implication: Pre-goodbye goodbyes: passing regards to the wife, etc.

Past tense: To kill the Now without committing to future encounters, say “It was great seeing you again,” “This was fun.”

Time’s winged chariot hurrying near: That oh-so-pressing world you must be getting on with, or the missus will kill you, or the shops will have run out of Christmas trees, or the kids will be starving…

Mustn’t keep you: To suggest that you’re halting the other person’s day is polite…

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