Have you ever been at a conference, a cookout, or a networking event and you felt that twinge that says "You should talk to that person".
At this point, like a split in the road we have two choices:
A. Check your instagram for the 231st time today.
B. Start that conversation.
When we meet new people, we get to expand our circle of people. This could lead to a business partnership, a new best friend, or a new client. But you'll never know unless you open your mouth.
There’s a phrase my mentor likes to say:
“90% of the work is done before you enter the room.”
It’s easier to start a conversation after you’ve had a successful conversation.
But how do you start those conversations?
Enter Conversational Muscle Memory.
Conversational Muscle Memory is built on the idea that when you start small, low-stakes conversations throughout your day, it's easier to start more conversations because you’ve built momentum.
Once you’ve built that momentum, it’ll be easier to start a conversation with that one person you really want to talk to at happy hour.
I explain more in this video:
Imagine...You start your day by grabbing some coffee at a nearby Starbucks.
The guy in front of you is looking at the food behind the glass case. He seems indecisive.
You: “Gotta go with the banana bread. It’s my favorite.”
Him: “Heh, there are so many choices, I can never decide.”
You: “Just get them all.”
Him: “Haha, then I might have to take the rest of the day off.”
You get to the counter and place your order.
You: “So what time did you have to come in this morning?”
Barista: “Oh, I got here at 5:30.”
You: “Whew! That’s way too early for me, I need my beauty sleep.”
Barista: Chuckles “Well, I’m kind of a morning person, so it works out.”
Congrats! Two conversations started, but you’re not done.
You call an Uber to work.
You: “Hey, how’s your morning going?”
Uber Driver: “Good, just getting started.”
You: “Cool. You think you’ll have a busy day?”
Uber Driver: “Probably, there’s that big conference downtown…”
Boom! That’s three, and you’re not even at work yet. Go you!
Notice how none of these conversation starters are particularly fancy. There's no such thing as the perfect line.
The most effective starters simply use the shared situation or environment that you're both in.
Aim to keep it as SIMPLE as possible.
Why does this strategy work?
In the 2010 Olympics, hockey star Sidney Crosby scored a game-winning goal for team Canada in overtime.
A reporter asked Crosby to take him through the game-winning shot.
"I didn't really see it." Crosby replied.
Crosby was functioning purely on procedural memory. Procedural memory allows you to make a behavior automatic.
After practicing Conversational Muscle Memory, you don't think, you just do.
This creates an automatic cycle of starting conversations.
But what if you feel nervous when it's time to start a conversation?
After having 90,000+ conversations, I still get that anxious feeling right before I start my first conversation of the day.
Only I label that anxious feeling something else...
When I anticipate something, it changes the game completely. Suddenly, I can go from resistance to acceptance. It makes interactions so much more fun.
This subtle shift also changes my focus from myself and my internal state to other people and the environment around me.
Which is great for starting conversations.
But what about other people? Won't they think I'm weird for starting conversations with people?
Not really. They're too busy thinking about themselves. As long as you're not making people uncomfortable or stopping them from continuing about their day, you'll be fine.
(Body language tip: Look at people's feet. If they are pointed towards the door, they may need to leave.)
There's this concept called the spotlight effect. It's responsible for the tendency of people to overestimate the extent in which others notice aspects of their behavior.
So I wouldn't worry excessively about other people.
If / When / Then
How can you start conversations today using Conversational Muscle Memory?
There's a simple framework that will make it easy to get started today called If-When-Then.
Simply put: If-When-Then strategies give you an in-the-moment blueprint for new behaviors.
(I learned If-When-Then from Robert Cialdini’s book Pre-suasion.)
When I get coffee at Starbucks, if there’s someone in line, then I’ll start a tiny conversation with them.
When I walk into work, if there’s someone near my desk, then I’ll start a tiny conversation.
Using the If-When-Then framework will help you become automatic. Just like Sidney Crosby.
Action step: For five minutes, brainstorm two typical scenarios where you could use If-When-Then.
"When I ____, if there’s someone ____, then I’ll ____."
Should I stay or should I go?
When I laid out this strategy to one of my clients, he asked me:
“What if I start a tiny conversation, and I end up having to leave, or a rambler gets started talking about model trains or whatever weird thing they’re into?!”
100% valid question.
Have an exit strategy, of course.
New Friend: “…And that’s why I moved to the city.”
You: “Hey, [extends hand] it’s been great talking with you, but I’ve got to get going.”
Let this script be the safety net for you so that you can start as many conversations as you want.
Now that you have several tools in your Batman utility belt, what’s the next step?
Tomorrow, start two (or more) tiny conversations using Conversational Muscle Memory.
Hey, I'm Jeff.
I'll help you supercharge your people skills so that you can have a more fulfilling career,
business & social life.
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