Person happy
If you want to connect with someone, ask them fun and interesting questions; don't ask generic and vague questions like 'What do you do'. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Talking can get tough no doubt (we see you introverts!) After you have mused over the state of the weather, discussed the latest drama and the cliffhanger no one saw coming, essentially exhausted your supply of conversation starters, how do you keep it going? No, no, don’t revert to your phone or walk away awkwardly to binge on snacks: There are several ways to keep the conversation in a flow.

UAE professionals have several tricks up their sleeve to turn the lull into interesting and memorable conversations. “I’ll usually refer to one point that they had mentioned earlier in the beginning, like even something briefly they mentioned about a film—and take it forward,” explains Derek Higgins, an American entrepreneur based in Abu Dhabi. “The key to a fun conversation could usually be in the beginning itself. I think you just need to pay attention, be involved and catch on,” he says.

So if the other person had mentioned that they live near a theatre, use it as the perfect opportunity to bring up a conversation about films, he provides as an example. On the other hand, Karoline Holt, a Norwegian expat based in Dubai, prefers to make a friendly comment on the person’s outfit, or hairstyle. “I think these little friendly and personal exchanges really establish a rapport. It shows that you are involved in the conversation, and that you aren’t just standing there for the sake of it,” she says.

Don’t let that mid-conversational lull bring you down. As experts warn, you don’t have to be ‘the most interesting person’ ever; the goal of a good conversation is to connect.

The art of a ‘doorknob’ conversation

Friends talking in office
Doorknobs are little nudges that keep the conversation going; so practise a doorknob conversation that encourages people to open up more about their lives. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Too much or too little? People hold back sometimes in conversations as they are afraid of making it about themselves. They think others don’t want to keep hearing them. This assumption is wrong; what matters is how you talk about yourself.

Think of a conversation like doorknobs, explains Alizeh Khan, a Dubai-based wellness and confidence coach. Doorknobs are like little gems that keep the conversation moving, she explains. It’s like giving the person a path through the conversation. Just like pushing open a door leads you to a new space, these elements can offer the person to engage with a different aspect of the conversation. “They give you unique points and insights, so you can take it forward,” she says. Khan suggests using various “doorknobs” including fun stories, experiences and seemingly random thoughts. It can also spark the other person’s interest, and they will feel like contributing too. However, it’s crucial to maintain a balance; don’t dominate with only your stories, and don’t keep bombarding them with questions, either. Maintain the balance.

Of course, there are a few hacks to connect with people in conversations. For starters, body language.

Let your eyes speak before you do

Friends talking
Don't keep dishing out facts or act superior to a person; weave it into a conversation. Image Credit: Shutterstock

A conversation can really fizzle out if you have the ‘Okay let’s move on’ expression, says Khan. Look keen; let your eyes speak before you do. The details are in all the body language, she says. No one’s asking you to keep saying ‘hmm’, nodding violently or staring at them intensely to the point of making them feel uncomfortable. “However, just looking at them, while they talk, would help to keep the conversation going. Don’t stand with your arms folded; nothing annoys a person more than that,” she says. That’s a sure sign that you’re waiting for them to get done.

It goes without saying: Skip checking the phone, even if it’s just a text. Otherwise, you’re giving off the message that you could really care less about the conversation and that everything else is interesting, she says.

Give your full attention to the person you are talking to. Avoid distractions like checking your phone or looking around the room while they are speaking. Engage in active listening by truly listening to what the other person is saying without interrupting or thinking about what you want to say next...

- Lauren Casey, psychologist

Give your full attention to the person you are talking to, says Lauren Casey, a psychologist based in Dubai. "Engage in active listening by truly listening to what the other person is saying without interrupting or thinking about what you want to say next," she says.

Leave your ego behind

Be curious, but leave your ego behind, advises Alexandra Carvalho, CEO and Creative Strategist of Alex's House of Social. "Most people go into a conversation with their egos. Subconsciously, they want to prove a point and want to come off that they have knowledge. They don't end up being good listeners, as they are thinking about what they want to say next rather then being fully present in the moment," she says.  Most people have an agenda during a conversation, which is usually to impress, rather then understanding how to make the other person feel good and seen.

Don’t be a walking encyclopaedia

You would know the person who keeps dishing out facts like confetti.

Yes, don’t be that person. Ditch the fact barrage.

Present your knowledge and facts without making the other person feel inferior. Don’t paint yourself to be an expert. According to Malavika Varadan, TedX speaker based in Dubai, spare people the onslaught of facts. Find a way to weave it into the conversation, or let them slowly arrive at it without you holding it over their heads. Everyone wants to have a conversation and share their point of view, but there’s a way of going about it. “Don’t throw facts. Don’t act like a know-it-all,” she says.

Ask people questions that they haven’t been asked before. Asking where they are from and what they do, is a generic conversation starter. Approach it like a child does. A child will not ask you for your business card and what you do...

- Malvika Vardhan, confidence coach, Dubai

Ask people questions that they haven’t been asked before, she advises. Asking them where they are from and what they do, is probably some of the most generic conversation starters. “I would always say, approach it like a child does. A child won’t ask you for your business card and what you do,” she says. So, opt for questions like ‘So what excites you about your work?’ You can even bring up the latest discovery that you are still reeling over.

Make small talk as that usually cuts to deeper conversations, but think a little out of the box.

Find that one thing that gets the other person excited

Cheesecake? K-Pop? What really gets a person’s eyes to light up? The moment you strike it in a conversation, take it forward say experts. Don’t ask simple yes or no questions; this is where the conversation stalls. A straightforward ‘tell me about you’ could work just as well. Show genuine curiosity to know the other person, says Casey. "And remember, keep the conversation balanced between talking and listening. Don't dominate it," she advises. 

So you could talk about your plans for the weekend; it could bring out the topic of your passion for a certain sport that might ignite interest. Follow up with questions and keep the conversation going, adds Casey.  Make sure you look and sound engaged throughout, because people can easily catch on, when you are just talking for the sake of it. "Try to understand the other person's perspective and feelings if they are sharing personal stories with you. Empathizing with them can help create a deeper connection and foster better communication," says Casey. 

Don’t be afraid of returning to an old conversation; circle back to old points, especially if that’s something that they were interested in talking about, adds Carvalho.She also adds a crucial point: Compliment, but don’t exaggerate. Saying simple things like ‘ that’s amazing you did that’ ‘ I’m so happy for you!’ is always helpful to continue the conversation.

Be vulnerable, without oversharing

A dash of vulnerability can enhance conversations, but too much can send your conversation hurtling off a cliff. “There is a difference between opening up and oversharing,” says Khan. “Immediately sharing personal and emotional baggage on someone is not brave or radical; it gets awkward,” she says. “You can share about the tough week that you have had, but this does not foster immediate intimacy. The other person needs to take some time before matching your level of vulnerability. Start easy, and judge their reaction,” she says. Mention challenges, without delving headfirst into the gory details. A simple ‘It has been a tough week’ can serve well.