How to Talk to Anyone (without being socially awkward): A Free Science-Backed Cheat Sheet

Remember a time when you found yourself in a conversation that got quiet and awkward? 

Maybe it was with a beautiful woman, a possible client, or someone cool. Whoever it was it’s someone that you’ve probably never seen since, or if you have, there’s always this awkward tension… 

Luckily, once you study the information here you’ll know exactly what to do in order to confidently, charismatically and easily have your conversations turn into valuable connections. Let’s get started! 

Listen Intently

To be interesting, be interested – Dale Carnegie

That cliche quote is a great place to start, though it has its limits which we’ll get to in a moment. Here’s why it works when it does though: people attach whatever they’re feeling in the moment to the people and surroundings they’re with. 

Knowing that, our goal is to get people talking about whatever they enjoy. For most people, it’s their goals, hobbies and passions or even their dreams. Because those usually bring up positive emotions for people.

Lastly, paying attention to people, their reactions or what they’re saying has an additional benefit: it gets you out of your head. If you get nervous when talking to people then getting out of your head and paying attention to who you’re talking with will immensely and powerfully help you feel confident instead of nervous.  

Limitations:

First, avoid ‘interview mode’ because it’s annoying. You want to relate (there’s an epic way we’ll cover later) and tease people from time to time. 

Another limitation is in groups. Group conversations tend to be livelier and less intimate. For groups you’ll want to be wittier, crack more jokes and tell more stories. 

But no matter the situation, always pay attention to… 

Comfort vs. Discomfort 

Just as careful listening is critical to understanding our verbal pronouncements, so careful observation is vital to comprehending our body-language – Joe Navarro 

There are far too many body language signals to talk about to give you anything useful. Instead, I’ve personally found it tremendously and amazingly helpful to focus on one thing: is this person comfortable or uncomfortable? 

Instead of trying to read minds, first look for comfort and/or discomfort in people. Then ask why they seem that way. Perhaps it was something you said or did or even something in the environment. Either way, once you train yourself to recognize comfort versus discomfort you can start making meaningful connections through conversation. 

Here are a few cues (from world-renowned body-language expert and retired FBI agent Joe Navarro):

Signs of Comfort

  • Eyebrow flashes 
    • Gravity-defying behavior, in general, is a comfort sign because it takes effort to defy gravity in some way
      • Opening up for a hug or standing with great posture are gravity-defying behaviors
  • Relaxing face/body
  • Tilting their heads
  • Mimicking gestures or words
  • Leaning in

Signs of Discomfort

  • Lips compress or ‘disappear’
  • Jaws/fists clench up
  • ‘Pacifying behaviors’
    • Rubbing their neck, head or just about anything
    • Self-touching in general which includes arm or leg crossing
  • Eye/mouth blocking
    • Or putting objects in between you
  • If someone distances themselves physically
  • Exit cues

What Are Exit Cues?

Exit cues are things people say/do when wanting to end a conversation. Anytime you get an exit cue from someone always assume they’re ready to leave, for whatever reason. Sometimes they won’t mean it that way and if that happens you can always talk to them later (and they may realize that they did something wrong which will make them want to make up for it).  

Here are a few exit cues to watch for:

  • Whenever they mention waking up early or having a long drive home
    • When flirting they may want you to invite them home. As always, pay attention to the big picture
  • Work they should go do
  • “I’d better get going”
  • Body-language signals:
    • Someone keeps their feet pointed away from the conversation
    • They immediately make a big body-language shift away from the conversation
    • If they seem distracted 
  • They let the conversation suddenly die 
    • “Yeah man I hear ya, he’s insane”
      • *in a disinterested tone of voice* “yeah…” or “Uh-huh…”
    • Saying well somewhat loudly with a rising upward tonality (similar to a rapport seeking voice) and then not saying anything afterward

If you see any of the above exit cues, you have less than five seconds to end the conversation because you yourself have experienced something similar. You’re in a conversation and ready to leave but you don’t want to be rude. So, you allow the conversation to die but the other person keeps forcing it. 

How incredibly and obnoxiously annoying is that? 

We’ve all been on both sides. It’s not pretty for anyone. Therefore, once you see an exit cue jump on it IMMEDIATELY! Every second spent after getting an exit cue is another point on the creepiness scale. 

What to Do After Getting an Exit Cue

  • “…Anyway, let’s talk later, hope you have a great day”
  • “…It was great talking to you but I gotta run”
  • Etc. 

Maybe the person is tired and doesn’t want to talk, or they may not want to talk to you or who knows what happened. The point is, they no longer want to be in the conversation and if you pick up on that you’ll score some cool points in how people see you. 

Use Questions to Create Connections

People want to feel important – John Dewey

The fastest way to make conversations awkward is to keep asking one-word questions. 

From personal experience, you’ll realize that whenever people ask you questions that can be answered in one or two words, it feels weird. Almost like they want something but you can’t figure out what. Say you’re at an event and somebody comes up and asks you:

  • Do you like the event?
    • It’s alright
  • Cool, is the food good or bad?
    • Good
  • Nice… are you here by yourself?

Kinda weird, right? 

It comes across like the other person needs something from you but you don’t understand what it is. It’s creepy. 

That’s the awkward power of asking one-word questions back-to-back. What some people call ‘interview mode’. To come across confidently, charmingly and charismatically; avoid interview mode LIKE. THE. PLAGUE

If the chance for interview mode comes up in a conversation you want to dodge it like The Matrix. 

And there are three different ways to do it naturally, quickly and easily that we’ll go over:

  1. Use question softeners 
  2. Ask open-ended questions
  3. Relate to people 

Question Softeners

I learned these from David Snyder and they’re AMAZING! Basically, question softeners add context to your questions. Another way to think about them is that they’re the foreplay, or lube for your conversations. And they take only a second. 

Let’s look at the above example with question softeners [underlined]:

  • Hey man, I work for the venue and I’m doing a quick 3-question survey. Do you like the event?
    • It’s alright
  • Cool, we pride ourselves on our food and want to make sure people enjoy it. Is the food good or bad?
    • Good
  • Nice, last question, we want to give people a fantastic experience here and want to know how many people come here as a couple or by themselves. Are you here by yourself?
    • No, I’m with my friends because I’m awesome
  • Thanks! I appreciate your time and if you need anything feel free to come get me
    • Sounds good!

Suddenly it doesn’t feel as weird, does it? 

We don’t have to figure out why this guy’s asking us random questions. He tells us why he’s asking those questions and why they’re important. He even goes on to say it’s only going to be three quick questions which also tells us that it won’t take much of our time. 

That’s what a question softener does. It gives us context so we don’t get creeped out while doing mental gymnastics figuring out what they want because they tell us! 

But the cool thing about question softeners, like excuses, is they don’t even have to make sense!

In a study by Ellen Langer, known as “The Copy Machine Study”, the researchers found that you can make shit up and it’ll still work! While I can’t find any studies on it, my personal experiences and people I’ve talked to about it have found that question softeners operate the same way

But for context, here’s the basics of the study (link here, and James Clear talking about it here):

  • The researchers wanted to see if they could cut in line using different words/excuses:
    • Version 1: “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the Xerox machine?”
      • 60% of people let them in
    • Version 2: “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the xerox machine, because I’m in a rush?”
      • 94% of people let them in
    • Version 3: “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the xerox machine, because I have to make copies?”
      • 93% of people let them in

My personal observation of that and the question softener phenomenon is this: 

  1. The brain is lazy and prefers to take the path of least resistance
    1. Study here 
  2. Whenever you give them a reason they’ll grab onto it and it doesn’t even have to be a good/sensible reason! 

This means that using any kind of question softener will work. Using the same example again:

  1. Tell me, I’m curious, do you like the event? 
  2. Cool, I’m a bit of a picky eater though, is the food good or bad? 
  3. Nice, I’m here with my friends. Did you come here alone? 

Notice how those examples feel compared to the first one. Probably not as great as the second, but still it feels more natural even though they literally make no sense! Just like The Copy Machine Study “because I have to make copies”.

Because there’s more to cover we’ll end with this: if you want to avoid the dreaded interview mode and make your conversations flow more smoothly, give question softeners a try! They’re not as great as state control, which we’ll get into in a few days, but they’re still fantastic! 

Finally, you’ll notice that those questions are still a little interview mode-like. To keep this from happening you’ll want to stay on a single topic for a little while before jumping to a new one (or use some of the techniques we’ll cover later) to make it natural. But first, let’s talk about open-ended questions in more detail:

Ask Open-Ended Questions

Ask open-ended questions to avoid interview mode and get people talking. We’ll use the same example from above:

  • Do you like the event? Vs. What do you think of the event? 
  • Is the food good or bad? Vs. How’s the food? 
  • Did you come here alone? Vs. What made you come out tonight? 

Notice that we’re still basically asking the same thing, but the open-ended version of the questions will give you more information. It also will allow people to talk more, which a lot of people love to do. 

And you’ll remember that the more people talk the more they’ll feel. The more they feel the more emotions people will stick onto you (NLP Anchor and Pavlov’s Dog Study linked again)! 

Limitations:

With some people, you may have to build more rapport with them to get them to open up to you. There’s A TON more information coming up about how to build rapport over the next few days, including the best way to build rapport: state control. 

But for now, if you’re getting one-word answers to open-ended questions it might be best to politely end the conversation and try later. Perhaps they’re not feeling well, you’ve not built up enough rapport with them or they’ve got something on their mind. Either way, trying to force something will make people feel like they’re being pushed. And if you’re anything like me you don’t like being pushed or forced to do things, which is natural for most people. 

Relate to People

Now that we’ve gotten question softeners and open-ended questions down there’s one last thing to cover; how to relate to people! 

The first two sections were about making your questions slip past any barriers people might have had and get them to open up and talk. This section is about relating to people so that they feel like you’ve been friends forever. And because other people can’t do all of the talking, or simply don’t want to, this will help you take some of the pressure from them to authentically and rapidly relate to people.

Thread-Cutting and Thread-Amplifying: Keep it Positive

Sometimes people will talk about negative/boring things. You can’t tell people to stop because it would be rude and you can’t let them keep going because they’ll stick those bad feelings onto you. Or worse, you’ll start to feel crappy while they’ll feel better (energy vampires). 

Therefore, you’ll want to use a simple conversational technique called ‘thread-cutting’ and ‘thread-amplifying’.

In conversation, think about the different topics as ‘threads’. For example, if you ask me where I grew up, you might get an answer like this:

  • I grew up in a small town [possible thread] where the people were narrow-minded and nobody ever seems to leave [negative thread]. The place was absolutely gorgeous though and there were TONS of places to explore [positive thread]. I was a bit of a loner [negative] so I learned how to entertain myself [could be good, could be bad]. And I always loved animals [positive]. 

Now, after getting an answer like that, what should your follow-up question or statement be? 

That entirely depends on your own experiences and what you want to do. Since it’s my own answer there’s a lot I can relate to, and if there’s something you relate to you’ll want to mention it. In fact, it’s safe to even mention negative threads in passing as long as you move on immediately after. I’ll show you in a moment, but it’s a way to relate to people and show them that you’re similar without allowing the conversation to dwell on negative things. 

Example:

  • Oh yeah, I know how annoying small towns can be. I grew up in one myself [relating to the negative part to show similarity but then immediately moving on to something positive]. But you’re totally right about how they can have some beautiful nature spots. But I’m curious, did you have any cool nature spots that you loved [amplifying a positive thread]? 

That’s known as ‘thread-amplifying’ because I chose to ask a follow-up question about one of the topics/threads. And it’s something you already do whenever you ask someone about something they said. Or, you can return to a different thread later on if the one you decide on dies or starts to become negative (just by asking someone “By the way, I meant to ask earlier: you mentioned that you loved animals?”).

But! You’ll also want to do something called ‘thread-cutting’ which is where you steer the conversation away from negative topics. 

Say we got this answer to the first question instead of that long one above:

  • I grew up in a crappy small town

This is a negative answer and it doesn’t give us any room to amplify anything, therefore we’ll want to switch gears. Just like a question softener, you don’t want to abruptly move into another topic because it’s too jarring and comes off as insensitive. Compare these examples: 

  • I grew up in a crappy small town
    • But what about the scenery?

 Vs.

  • I grew up in a crappy small town
    • Ah, that sucks. I know a lot of people don’t like small towns but I’ve heard that they can be beautiful. Is that true? 

This is how you naturally and quickly cut down a negative thread to move into a positive one. 

Most of the time, you’ll start to get positive answers if you do this. But some people are negative people and that means they’ll keep coming back to negative answers. If it’s only every once in a while, they’re probably normal people or having a bad day. But if you’re with a Debbie Downer you’ll want to politely end the conversation and find someone that isn’t an energy vampire. 

Nothing’s worth what they’ll put you through. Trust me. 

Emergency List of Topics

Basically, these are your topics of conversation to keep in your back pocket to talk about if you need them. 

Realize that not a ton of people know how to have a great conversation and you’ll have to help them a little bit. That’s where your emergency list of topics come in handy, things like:

  • Dreams
  • Goals
  • Career
  • Hobbies/Passions
  • Family

These are all great topics to bring into a conversation whenever possible, and there’re lots of different things you can ask within each topic. 

Quick Rule:

Make sure you build rapport with someone first. This is where small talk comes in handy. In small talk, you’ll want to talk to people about the environment that you’re in and from there gradually and slowly get into other topics. 

But, there’s a fun way to speed up the process. A game I learned from Charisma on Command called…

Play The ‘Reminds Me Of…’ Game

There are lots of different ways that you can smoothly and naturally jump from topic to topic, but one of my favorites is this game. 

Basically, whatever someone tells you about, you tell them about something that they’ve reminded you of. Like this [underlined]:

  • I’m curious, what do you think about the food here?
    • Man, I tell you, it’s so bad that it’s actually hilarious. My friends were telling me how awful it is but it’s so fun to watch everyone’s reactions after they taste it!
  • I know, right? I was thinking about that and how it reminds me of those awful movies that become cult classics. They’re so terrible that they become like a drinking game or something!
    • Exactly! Kind of like those weather people that end up making mistakes or every time they do something you have to take a shot
  • Yup, although you have to be careful because my friends and I were doing that one time and…

It can sound a little overwhelming at first when you read it, but when you see it in action you’ll recognize that a lot of conversations naturally have these kinds of transitions from topic to topic.  

That’s everything from today’s email, but as you’ll realize and notice, there’s a COLOSSAL amount of information here and you’ll get better results in your conversations if you use it. But since you clicked the link in the email I sent you to get here, you’ll recognize that there’s more information coming your way over the next few days. Information that will unlock a level of trust and respect from people that barely anyone will ever understand, including the biggest asset to my life to date: state control.

Infographic Re-Cap

We covered a lot of ground in this freebie, and it can be overwhelming at times. Because it can be overwhelming at times here’s an easy summary of everything we went over: