How to conversate when you’re not good at conversation

Our house is full of introverts of varying degrees.

I could stand on a chair and sing in front of a room full of people, but I can’t make small talk. I hate small talk. I avoid situations where small talk is involved. If I am forced to mingle, you’ll find me in a corner somewhere watching everyone else, amazed that there are people who can just go somewhere and talk to other people they don’t really know.

Dylan is also an introvert, but he’s the kind that would never, ever stand on a chair in front of anyone. He understands the pain I feel over making meaningless conversation with strangers because he feels it too. The difference between me and Dylan is, he’s trying to get better at it. This summer he read a book called The Art of Conversation for People Who Aren’t Good at Conversation. Actually, that wasn’t really the title, but you get the gist. It was an entire book on how to talk to people.

As we were traveling to Atlanta a few weeks ago, he brought it up. He said I should read it because he really felt like it would help me. Dylan said there was one bit of advice that he’d had particular success with: when you don’t really know what to say, just repeat what the other person says.

When you repeat what the person says, it prompts them to elaborate. That does two things, he said. First, it makes the person you’re talking to feel good because it shows that you’re interested in what they’re saying. Second and most importantly, it takes the heat off you. It means they talk more and you get to listen.

Dylan said he’d tried it and it works. It’s magical, he said. It’s like they don’t even realize that you aren’t a small-talker because they are doing practically all the talking. And you never have to worry about what to say next, because they come up with all the material. It’s a great concept, he said. “Just repeat what they say. You should try it.”

Matt looked at me and winked. We have a house full of introverts and smart alecks.  “So you just repeat what they say,” he said.

“Yeah! Just repeat it,” Dylan said. “It makes people feel good when they think you’re interested. People always like to talk about things they like and are interested in.”

“People like that,” Matt said.

“Yes! It really works!” said Dylan. “They don’t realize that you’re really making them talk.”

“They don’t realize?” Matt asked.

“No! It really works. They just keep talking. You have to try it,” said Dylan.

That was about as long as I could hold in the laughter. And then Matt started to laugh.

“Why are you laughing?” asked Dylan. “What’s funny?”

“I believe you when you say it works,” I said.

“It does work,” he said. “But what is funny?”

We laughed harder. He looked confused for just a little bit and then… “Ohhhhhhh,” said Dylan, pursing his lips. “I see what you did.” He sat back in his chair and looked out the window. “You’re going to write about this, aren’t you?”

“Yes, yes I am.”


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