Guest post by Monique Stubbs-Hall, volunteer at Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont.
Let’s face it – having effective communication skills is not easy for many people! According to statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 5.3 million Americans suffer from a social phobia, with 74% suffering from speech anxiety.
So if fear plagues you every time you must strike up a conversation with someone you don’t know or someone you feel is in a position of authority…that is normal.
So what can be done to overcome such fear?
Practice communicating behind the scenes: As corny as this may seem, it really works. Practice holding meaningful conversations at home in front of the mirror, or with a close friend or family member. Practice questions you can ask the person you are trying to engage. Grandma always said, “Practice makes perfect,” and her words are golden in this case. Try it!
Engage others by learning more about them: The best way, after shaking hands with someone, to jog a dialogue is to ask specific questions that will help you learn more about them. Here are a few of my favorites from Allison Graham, blogger for Fast Company:
- “What keeps you busy when you’re not at events like this or at work?” This question gives the encouragement necessary for the person to share his/her passions and outside interests. It’s an excellent way to add some enthusiasm into a conversation that has hit a lull, especially if he/she would prefer to be doing that activity at that moment.
- “How did you come to be in your line of work?” For some, the path to where they are today can be quite an interesting ordeal. Having a chance to revisit their story to success can leave helpful clues along the way as to who they are and what makes them tick.
- “Are you getting away this summer?” This question can lead to conversations about family, reveal special interests and, if you like talking about travel, it’s a sure-fire way to keep a conversation interesting.
- “Are you originally from this area?” I have found that people love to tell you their background…and if they are not from the area, follow up with, “What brought you to this area?” There will usually be a very interesting story behind that question.
- “Are you working on any fun projects this year?” This question opens up a discussion on their interests and passions. You may learn whether they love sports, travel, have children, have a charitable interest etc.
Look for a common ground: Develop the skill of being a good listener. As the individual you are building a rapport with is speaking, listen for common interests. Once you identify areas that you have in common, conversation can now flow naturally because you can discuss areas where there are similarities and you can both enjoy the dialogue.
Exchange contact information if applicable: If you have made a valuable connection through the use of good communication techniques, don’t forget to let the person know what a pleasure it was meeting them and then offer your contact information first and then ask for theirs. There is nothing worse than making a good connection and then not opening the door for follow-up. This is the beginning of the next phase of communication, which is building the relationship.
Follow up and follow through: Upon obtaining contact information, advise when you will follow up and then make sure that you follow through accordingly. This will make it easier to continue your next round of communication with this connection and then develop this relationship.
Once you have worked through these initial steps, you will feel more confident and ready to get out there and try it again. You can do it!
By Monique Stubbs-Hall, The Greatness Groomer. Visit www.MoniqueTalks.com to learn more about her public speaking, business consulting and coaching services.