Learning how to talk to people sounds a bit like a joke, because we already talk to people every day. We’re experts at opening our mouths, making sounds, nodding our heads and smiling politely… but that’s not what you came here to learn.
You instinctively know that there’s more to conversation than meaningless chit-chat. You’ve seen other people talk on a deeper level, and you’ve seen those same people make friends easily, build social circles and get ahead in their careers because they know how to connect with people in a meaningful way.
That’s why you’re reading an article titled “How To Talk To People,” right?
Why Your Conversations Are Boring
Let me ask you… what would happen if you were talking to someone you’d just met and they told you they were a tax accountant, for example?
You’d probably say “oh cool,” follow it with some small talk and then get yourself stuck on a topic you don’t really want to talk about, right? Like this…
Them: “Oh just a lot of looking over receipts and making spreadsheets.”
You: “So you must be pretty good with Excel.”
Them: “Uhh, yeah, I guess I’m pretty good at it. I did a course on it last week actually.”
You: “Nice. I can use it a bit but I don’t really use it that often…”
It’s because you’re only pretending to be interested. Internally you’re thinking “how do I change the topic???” but externally you’re digging for details that you don’t even want.
(I’m not saying that Excel isn’t interesting, by the way… just that this particular person isn’t interested in it.)
You’ll never truly connect with anyone by pretending, because people can tell when you’re only faking interest, or just being polite. They don’t want to be in that conversation either, because it feels forced and empty for BOTH of you.
(Check out my article on building stronger friendships where I expand on this idea.)
So what do you do? How do you learn how to talk to people in a meaningful way?
Step One: Stop Pretending To Be Interested
The next time you’re talking to someone and you run out of small talk, stop digging into details that you don’t care about. Stop asking questions that you don’t actually WANT answers to. Stop talking shit for the sole purpose of keeping the conversation going.
The goal of a conversation is not simply to fill silence, it’s to connect with the other person. So if all you’re trying to do is fill silence, without truly being interested in what you’re talking about, you’re going to make it awkward.
If your own words bore you, they sure as hell won’t excite the other person… so don’t say them. Give your brain a chance to find something that you’re actually interested in talking about.
Step Two: When Small Talk Runs Out, FIND Something You’re Genuinely Curious About
You’ll reach a point in the conversation where you naturally run out of obvious small talk things to say. Instead of faking interest and continuing to interrogate the other person, pause to find some aspect of the current topic that you’re actually curious about.
You can easily feed off of genuine curiosity to keep a conversation going. That’s how to talk to people on a deeper, more meaningful level.
Ask yourself: What am I genuinely excited or interested to learn here? To explore? To share?
If you don’t actually FEEL the curiosity, you haven’t found the right topic yet.
So what might spark your curiosity with the tax accountant? How about this… (if you’re interested in psychology and what motivates people to do what they do)
Them: “I have no idea; I don’t always love my job — but I guess the one thing I do like is that you always know when you’ve done your work right, because the numbers match up, and they never lie.”
Now we’re getting into meaningful territory, because you’re not just pretending to be interested anymore. You’ll feel much more confident and comfortable taking the conversation in this direction, and the other person will open up to your genuine curiosity.
How To Talk To People At Work (Conversation Example #1)
Your co-worker tells you it takes her an hour on the train to get to work every morning. After you say the obvious stuff, like “Damn, it only takes me 20 minutes by car,” or “Where are you coming from?”, you run out of things to say.
So what hidden aspect of her story sparks your curiosity?
For me (interested in productivity & learning) it’s this …
How To Talk To Someone On A Date (Conversation Example #2)
A girl on a first date tells you she has a dog named Barney. You say the stuff that comes easy, like “Aww, what kind of dog?” or “Do you teach him tricks?” — but you don’t have a dog so you don’t know to go deeper on that topic.
What are you genuinely excited or interested to explore here? To share?
For me it’s this (something I’ve wondered about) …
How To Talk To People At The Gym (Conversation Example #3)
A stranger at the gym tells you he wakes up 6am every day to go for a run. You’ve never really enjoyed running. You start with the obvious small talk: “How long do you run for?” or “Where do you run?” and then you get stuck.
What are you curious to learn here?
For me it’s this (true story) …
You don’t have to always dig for the meaningful stuff like this in every sentence of every conversation. But, if you want to learn how to talk to people in a meaningful way… whenever you feel like you’re running out of small talk, don’t fake interest — find it.