It’s truly an art . . . the art of making conversation with others. And it takes skill and practice. I got the chance to practice this skill over and over while living in Norway for 6 1/2 years with my husband (US Marine) who was assigned to NATO. Nine countries were part of this NATO command and we attended many formal and informal gatherings over the years. I also had my own training and consulting business which necessitated me collaborating closely with the Norwegians and the ex-patriate international community.
But it was the formal dinner parties hosted by the NATO command that I remember best. They were beautifully planned events held at the headquarters with a mix of military representatives and their spouses attending. These dinner events always started later in the evening and didn’t conclude until well past midnight. So it was a long evening filled with real conversation – no cell phones or texting at this dinner table.
The dinner meal was quite formal and I would find myself seated next to someone new each time. I would usually have a military officer and their spouse on each side of me and another couple across from me. Although, the “official” language was English one had to respect that the other person was speaking in a 2nd or 3rd language. This is truly the art of making conversation. So this is what I became quite good at . . .
Creating a Conversation Bridge: Be Interested & Interesting
What I really learned was to be genuinely “interested” in the other person. I listened closely for who they were, what they had experienced and what I could learn from them. This created a bridge between us. People love to talk about their own lives if they feel someone is really interested – and I am. I engaged my curiosity and just listened to learn. And then I asked questions to learn more. It’s a discovery process.
And then I would be “interesting” as well. The conversation couldn’t be just one way – then everyone is bored. Before each dinner, I would consciously think of several topics that made me interesting – a recent trip, a new work project, an interest in something happening internationally, funny experiences etc. Something that I could contribute to the conversation – after all, we had at least 3 hours to converse. And don’t forget that the three taboo topics politics, sex and religion are still to be avoided in any kind of gathering where you want to make a good impression.
Now it’s been a few years since the whirlwind of living and working in Norway. But one of the many things I learned was that I can make conversation with anyone. I can always find a bridge and spark a conversation about something we have in common. So lesson learned . . . be “interested” and “interesting” and you’ll always have a fascinating dinner companion!