I believe that, within reason, I need to model to, and encourage, our children in how to initiate conversations with strangers. This is a great social skill, especially when they are older at parties, in work situations etc but also in general day to day life.
I love how my own kids have seen me do this enough that it is becoming second nature to them in certain situations. The first day we arrived at the resort on our holiday, Princess, who is 10 years old, took her and Matey to the pool and spa whilst I was finishing the unpacking. I could see them from our room and they knew I wouldn’t be long. They are both competent swimmers, Princess being in our local swim squad, competent in all freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly. She has passed the equivalent of the bronze medallion in life saving but is too young for it to be awarded to her yet. I don’t normally allow them to go near water on their own, but I felt very comfortable in this situation, already knowing the pool from previous years holiday. By the time I arrived 10 minutes later, Princess had struck up a conversation in the spa with an older lady, the only other person around. She had found out that this lady lived not far from where I grew up in Tasmania. Every time we have seen this lady around, the lady and Princess have continued their conversation. It is great to see the kids conversing with people of all ages.
Fifteen years ago, hubby and I did a leadership course and learnt a valuable method of trying to initiate a conversation with people to get the level of sharing deeper than surface level (ie more than just talking about the weather). We memorised a picture with at least twelve different parts to it. You then put those parts of the picture to a question that you can ask the person to get a conversation flowing. I must confess, I can’t remember it all now, but some of it stuck. Very occasionally in those awkward situations where the other person isn’t initiating conversation, I drag this picture to the front of my mind.
- Bronze Name plate – “Hi, my name is… What’s your name?”
- On top of the name plate, a house – “Where do you live?”, “Do you live around here?”, “Where abouts did you grow up?”
- In the living room, above the fireplace, a family portrait – “Who do you live with?”, “What close family do you have?”
- Person hanging out chimney with a work glove on their hand – “How do you spend the majority of your time?” (I find this a more sensitive question than, “What do you do for a job?”)
- The work glove holding an aeroplane – “Do you have any holiday plans?”, “Have you been anywhere exciting for holidays?”, “Where’s the most memorable place in the world you have been?”, “If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you like to go?”
- Stuck in the propellar of the aeroplane is a tennis racket – “What do you like doing in your spare time?”, “What are your hobbies?”
- Flashing light bulb attached to the front of the tennis racket – “What great ideas have you had?”, “What would you like to invent?”, “What would you change about the world if you could?”
- Caught in the propellar on the other side of the plane is a PFC Can – (Problems, Frustrations/Fears, Concerns) – “What do you see as the greatest problem in the world?”, “What would be your biggest concern?”
- Stuck on the nose of the aeroplane is a Trophy – “What have been your greatest achievements so far in your life?”
- Over the trophy is a set of Football goal posts – “What are your goals in life?”, “What would you like to achieve in the next 12 months?”
- Over the top of the football goal posts is a beautiful sunset – “Who has inspired you the most in your life?”, “Who are your heroes?”
- Pair of praying hands on top of the sunset – “If there was something I could pray for you, what would it be?”, “If you could ask God one thing, what would it be?”
This is not the ‘ultimate’ in making you a great conversationalist but it helps give you some ideas to springboard from in your communciation with people. These questions are not meant so that you interrogate people, but just to help create a flow in the conversation if you become stuck with what to say next. Being able to carry on a great conversation is a skill, one that usually has to be learnt.
I encourage you to start going through this with your kids and memorising it and practicing it on each other. Pretend to be unusual characters. Have fun and learn at the same time. A great place to start this is in the car or at the dinner table.
What do you do to help your children prepare for having great conversation skills in any social setting?