Knowing how to come up with questions is a key component of engaging conversations. But the words we use are only half the story.
“At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou
The way you speak has a profound impact on the way people receive and understand your words.
Let’s say you’re walking down a sidewalk in the middle of the day. You see a man walking toward you. He’s smiling and walking at a casual pace. He makes eye contact with you as you approach. And as you are passing each other he greets you with a pleasant “Hello.”
A simple acknowledgement like that can brighten someone’s day. This is because a kind smile is contagious when making eye contact with someone. That person is also likely to feel more relaxed and keep smiling.
This is a result of a phenomenon called emotional contagion.
We define emotional contagion as “the tendency to automatically mimic and synchronize expressions, vocalizations, postures, and movements with those of another person’s and consequently, to converge emotionally.” 1
To translate, emotions can be contagious―like yawning!
Why is this important in developing your conversational skills?
If you start a conversation when you’re in a good mood, the person you’re speaking to is going to feel it. Your body language conveys it. Your eye contact, smile, and the cheerful tone in your voice convey it.
But the same goes for the other end of the mood spectrum. If you’re in a terrible mood when you start a conversation with the person sitting next to you, that person is going to feel the terrible mood you’re in before you open your mouth.
Is that the first impression you want to leave people with?
Or do you want the people you meet to remember you as someone who brought a little light into their world. Mainstream news and social media bombard us with doom and gloom. So do friends and family who pay too much attention to the news and social media. As a result, positivity, empathy, and appreciation are in high demand these days.
“Emotional contagion may well be important in personal relationships because it fosters behavioral synchrony and the moment-to-moment tracking of other people’s feelings even when individuals are not explicitly attending to this information.” 1
In other words, people sync their emotions with people they’re talking to without even realizing it!
That’s why it’s important to be aware of your physical and mental state. It’s not only for your well-being but the well-being of those you interact with.
“If you make them feel heard, connected, and appreciated—they are going to remember you for the right reasons.” – AJ
So what can you do to ensure you’re having a positive impact on the people you meet and interact with?
Many people have a misconception about smiling. They think they’re smiling in a conversation when they’re not.
This might seem odd at first—wouldn’t you know if you’re not smiling?
What happens is people will smile at first. But as soon as they start listening, the smile goes away as they focus on what the other person is saying. Or worse, they’re not even paying attention because they’re trying to think of the next question they want to ask (stop doing that!).
Smile, ask a question, and then put that smile back on as you listen!
Side note—obviously, there are times when you shouldn’t be smiling in a conversation. But most people don’t smile enough. So start smiling more. Then use common sense to dial it back when appropriate (like when someone tells you he got fired).
Make eye contact
Looking someone in the eyes is one of the easiest and most powerful ways to make a person feel recognized, understood, and validated. But avoiding eye contact can make the person you’re talking to feel uncomfortable and disrespected.
Here is a super easy way to practice making eye contact and smiling throughout your day. Every time you walk past someone make eye contact with that person and smile. You don’t even need to say anything. The number of people who smile back will amaze you. Some might even strike up a conversation with you!
Maintain open body language
Stand up straight. Shoulders down and back. Hands out of your pockets and arms at your sides.
Hunching over with your shoulders forward closes you off. It makes you look like you’re an insecure entry-level villain working on a cliche plot to take over the world. And keeping your hands in your pockets or folding your arms makes you look like you’re too cool to talk to anyone.
Open body language, a warm smile, and eye contact make you approachable. The combination makes people feel comfortable because you look comfortable.
And isn’t that what you want—to make people feel comfortable talking to you?
Your emotions are contagious. So be a source of warmth and comfort in a world of insecurity and uncertainty.
If you’d like to learn more about using small talk hacks to boost your sales, grow your network, and never feel awkward again, check out our latest podcast!
1. Hatfield E, Cacioppo JT, Rapson RL. Emotional Contagion. Current Directions in Psychological Science. 1993;2(3):96-100. doi:10.1111/1467-8721.ep10770953