I went to my neighborhood association holiday party this week. I really hate these kinds of things because I am just the worst mingler you’ve ever met. But my neighbor — who sometimes comments here under the name Krazy Kat — and I decided that we should go in order to re-connect with the association, in light of an increase of crime in our neighborhood.
A couple of beers always makes mingling less painful for me, and so it was on Tuesday. I actually came home feeling pretty good about having talked with several people whom I’d either never known before or just had just exchanged hellos at previous meetings. I had conversations with people about crime, but also about blogging, ponds, falafel, native plants, pizza, Obama/ Clinton/ Kucinich, and a few other things. I thought I did pretty well at holding up my end of the conversations.
And then I read this:
‘Tis the season of merry-making, which means you’re probably more likely than usual to find yourself making polite and perhaps awkward chit-chat. One of the challenges of the holidays!
If you have trouble talking to a stranger in those situations, here are some tips to consider.
Here are the factors I watch, when trying to figure out if I’m connecting with someone. These are utterly unscientific – I’m sure someone has made a proper study of this, but these are just my observations (mostly from noting how I behave when I’m bored and trying to hide it):
1. Repeated, perfunctory responses. A person who repeats, “Oh really? Wow. Oh really? Interesting.” isn’t particularly engaged.
2. Simple questions. People who are bored ask simple questions. “When did you move?” “Where did you go?” People who are interested ask more complicated questions that show curiosity, not mere politeness.
3. Interruption. Although it sounds rude, interruption is actually a good sign, I think. It means a person is bursting to say something, and that shows interest. Similarly…
4. Request for clarification. A person who is sincerely interested in what you’re saying will ask you to elaborate or to explain. “What does that term mean?” “When exactly did that happen?” “Then what did he say?” are the kinds of questions that show that someone is trying closely to follow what you’re saying.
And really, it just gets worse from there on, ending with this one:
8. Audience posture. Back in 1885, Sir Francis Galton wrote a paper called “The Measurement of Fidget.” He determined that people slouch and lean when bored, so a speaker can measure the boredom of an audience by seeing how far from vertically upright they are. Also, attentive people fidget less; bored people fidget more. An audience that’s sitting still and upright is interested, while an audience that’s horizontal and squirmy is bored.
But you can read the full list here. Happy holidays!
image by Greg Clarke