#1 Make it Awkward
I used to be skilled, now I am patient.
During college, I prided myself on my ability to pace a conversation. I didn’t allow for any dead space while talking with a date. I thought that this was a sign of adept communication skills. I picked out when my date would be arriving at the conclusion of their thought and then jumped in with great timing in order to seamlessly transition to “my turn” and keep the conversation flowing.
Now, I stay quiet even beyond where the other person’s thought may have ended up to the point where they might wonder if I have anything to say at all or if I was even paying attention.
It can seem very awkward but it really isn’t. We’ll get to that a little later.
If you give someone the extra space to think and breathe, you will find that they almost invariably have something else to say. This last bit that gets added on in the silence that follows their conclusion is often the most important.
Getting to know the person in front of you
Once you are past the hello’s and you are moving to more substantive conversation, most likely around getting to know one another, the decision to wait a moment after someone “finishes” speaking before you respond becomes incredibly valuable.
This is more than just listening. This is allowing the person to discover things they themselves might not have even planned to say.
Think about it this way, do you really expect someone to have the perfect answer on cue every time you ask a question? Do you have that ability? Just because someone completes a thought does not make that thought complete.
Give their mind a chance to dig deeper or think further and you will both be pleasantly surprised by the organic content of the conversation as opposed to the well-oiled machine of well-timed interjections and pre-created questions.
Besides, if nothing else, it gives you both more time to think and let’s be honest, most of us could do with a whole lot more thinking.
#2 Awkwardness is a Choice
Think life through for a second and you will never be the same (awkward) person you used to be.
Is the thing that makes you feel “awkward” really awkward? Or are you just reacting to the world around you having never actually considered what is taking place?
Think about the above-mentioned point of creating seemingly unnatural pauses in the flow of a conversation. What is awkward about wanting to truly hear what someone has to say? What is awkward about being intentional in the way you listen to someone you ostensibly care about? Nothing.
They are going to squirm
If you practice intentional pauses in conversation to see if any other gems will come from the person you’re listening to, you will almost always run into “awkward” situations. It’s so incredibly rare to encounter someone who actually listens and takes the extra step to intentionally wait to see if you have more to say. The intentional pauses are therefore a guaranteed way to practice refusing to give in to the urge to feel awkward.
When the moment comes and you feel “awkward” remember that it is a choice to feel awkward.
Choose instead to stand by your decision to care enough to hear more from the person in front of you.
If they ask what’s wrong, explain that you wanted to see if any more thoughts would come out of their last statement because you are genuinely interested in what they are explaining.
#3 Talk to Strangers
People are people are people, so get out of your own head and enjoy the world around you.
I have the habit of talking to strangers; whether they are in the elevator with me, checking me out at a store or in the car next to me at a stoplight.
I started the habit of talking to strangers the day I made it a goal to always try to bring a smile to someone’s face if I had the chance. Since then, the habit has evolved to finding abnormal and quick connections with strangers scattered throughout my life; the person sitting on the park bench with me, the woman crying quietly in the seat behind me on a bus, the barista that is extra joyful today.
Once you make it a habit to regularly speak with strangers and connect with them in a rapid but meaningful way, you realize just how accessible real connection can be.
A real connection is not difficult to establish
A real connection does not have to come after hours of getting to know someone. It doesn’t have to come after an expensive dinner, it doesn’t have to come only if you both “had a good night.”
A real connection can happen in the space of a few seconds with someone. All you have to do is care. Be curious, be interested, be engaged, be honest and be kind.
The next time you have the chance to engage a stranger (in a non-threatening way), try to find a way to connect with them even only momentarily. Being familiar with how to establish that connection will enrich any human interaction you have, especially those that take place in the context of dating.
#4 Compliment Less, Reflect Out Loud More
Compliments are great and they work well for their purpose, that is why there are thousands of cards filled with generic compliments in grocery stores near you.
If you want generic, go pick up a card. If your date wants generic, go get them a card.
If, however, you actually think the person in front of you is pretty amazing and you want to communicate that to them, forget the cards.
We all know that a card we get from the store that has no handwriting in it means less than the cards we receive that have actual writing in them. Think about a basic compliment as the empty card you receive. Think about the proper way to compliment someone as the card that has writing in it.
Give what you want to say a moment of thought and then share with your date as if you are sharing a reflection from your own observation as opposed to a list of pretty but empty adjectives you’ve picked up over the years.
From compliment to meaningful reflection
Once you know a bit about the person, think about the aspects of them that you really admire or are amazed by. Ground the nice things you say in something related to them and how they make you think or feel.
Without having an actual person to build compliments for, here are a few examples that could shake you out of the basic complimenting style that is easy to use and means very little.
You are so beautiful → I can’t get over how beautiful your smile is when you get excited about something.
You have a great smile → your smile is so pretty it makes me want to smile!
Your eyes are beautiful → your eyes are so amazing they make me think of other beautiful things like sunsets and sunrises.
You are a really cool person → I really admire the way you have pushed through some of the difficult parts of life you’ve encountered.
I love your laugh → your laugh is so full of joy! I swear you could walk into a room and laugh and everyone in it would probably feel better about life.
Again, the point here is to communicate something that matters to someone that matters to you. This is not about tricking someone with pretty words and elaborate statements. It is about more effectively communicating with someone.