Getting People to Talk

Do you have a relationship with a person or do you encounter people who just don’t seem to talk?

Many people are uncomfortable talking to others.  Electronic devices have also created an even easier way to avoid actual conversations.  Some people will often type things about themselves, but if you are with that person face-to-face, they just seem to pull back into their shell.

Getting people to talk who have spent a great deal of time avoiding conversation is tough.  If you fail a few times, don’t give up.  You will want to ask open-ended questions to get the person to talk.  Longer term relationships may find this process is slow and painful.  Past history and habits may be hard to overcome. You want to make sure you aren’t the reason this person doesn’t talk.  If you’ve a history of judgmental statements or harsh words with this person, they will be very hesitant in conversations with you.  Try to use a neutral tone in your voice when you are asking questions.   You may have to practice this neutral tone and words.  If you find yourself in the same pattern, just stop and take a breath, maybe walk a few steps away explaining to the person that you need a minute to gather your thoughts.  Use those few seconds to re-group and start over. This may take practice on both sides. For them, it will be trusting that your change is genuine, so you will need to be consistent until it’s your new normal. Remember, your goal is to have a positive, healthy relationship with this person and talking about a variety of topics is key.  Don’t stay stuck on the same topic if the person isn’t willing to participate. Change the topic.  It may take them some time with the process.

Here are several questions that can might start the person into talking to you.

  • How does this affect you?
  • What was your reaction?
  • How do you feel about it?
  • Do you have a plan?   If yes, ask them to tell you about it.  If no, ask them if they’ve thought about creating one.
  • Can you give me an example?

Don’t give up hope if you don’t succeed at first.  Patterns and habits are hard to break.  Trust takes time to build.  Continue practicing your new skills with others.

You can put multiple questions together to gather more information from people that you don’t know quite so well.  Often, once a person starts talking, they will continue without as much prompting.

Some examples:

What type of job do you have?  Do you like it?  Why or why not?  Do you see yourself doing the same thing in 5 years?  How did you get into this line of work?  What’s the best/worst part of your job?

How did you get into “____”?  How often do you get to do it?  Is it affordable?  Do you need lessons?  Are there locations close by?  How long did it take you to learn it?

Your goal is to create a dialogue, not a one-sided situation.  Many times, talking about yourself will make the person more comfortable, but, be careful not to dominate the conversation. You will not want the person to think you only want to talk about yourself and are not interested in hearing anything.  You don’t want to give off the impression that you just want someone to listen to you.  You want to make sure that you are leaving ample time for that person to interject, give feedback or ask questions.   In using your own experiences, you can ask the person if they experienced anything similar or what they might have done in that situation.

Topics that people you are just meeting or just know casually are usually willing to talk about:

  • Career/job
  • College
  • Hobbies
  • Music
  • Movies
  • Books

Remember to be fully engaged when you are talking to someone.  Don’t let electronics distract you and make the person think you really are not interested in what they have to say.  Make eye contact with the person.  Don’t look all around the room at everything but that person.  Watch your body language, don’t cross your arms in front of you, this signals you are closed off.

Practice, practice, practice.  It may feel strange at first, but you will get better at asking questions and before long, you’ll have people talking to you.


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