Walking into a room of people used to create anxiety for me. I would become so nervous, I would speak in monosyllables (or not at all) feeling tongue-tied, fearing I would say the wrong thing. I would even avoid eye contact, praying I could just listen to others and never have to become part of a conversation!
In my heart I knew this was wrong. I felt others would look at me as a bland, boring person with no thoughts of my own. I would fade into the background, invisible to those around me. I finally got to the point of questioning if I should even attend functions – after all, I was just going to shrink into the corner.
So what was the point?
Needless to say, it was clear this approach was NOT effective or serving me well.
It wasn’t until I did my executive coach training that I learned conversations could be approached differently. To be honest, up until this point, I don’t even think I had learned how to have a conversation. For me, this changed everything.
When I was doing my coach training, I learned about asking open questions (questions beginning with WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, WHY or HOW) and began playing with them. I found that I could ask about anything if I put ‘what’ or ‘how’ in front of my thought. I learned that people really love to feel seen, heard, and understood. When asked a question, they enjoyed sharing their experiences, knowledge, and ideas.
I learned that if I asked one open question and then another, I became more relaxed. This helped me engage in the conversation and at times, even contribute to it.
My curiosity with others in conversation was helping me to better understand them, and them me. I was able to be more confident. I even began to look forward to participating in conversations anywhere, anytime, about anything.
Curiosity gave me the confidence I needed to have conversations with anyone – and you can, too. Here’s how:
3 Tips To Be More Confident When Talking To People
1. Be present in all conversations to ABSORB.
I was so distracted and worried what others were thinking that I wasn’t able to be present and actively listen to what was being said. This made it hard for me to be an active participant or a confident conversationalist.
As soon as I was able to be present and actively listen to ABSORB what was being said, I found it SO much easier to be curious. This also made me be more confident, because being present meant I knew exactly what was being said. ABSORB is an acronym. See below:
A: Attention to others. If we aren’t giving the speaker our full attention, we aren’t fully present and will never be able to actively listen to what is being said.
B: Body language and tone of voice. It is important to notice the speaker’s body language and tone of voice, as well as your own. Where are you looking? What are your arms doing? Are your words congruent with your body language and tone of voice?
It is important to be aware of the message you are conveying to the speaker – active listening doesn’t just involve words.
S: Stop and focus. This means put your phone away, close your book or magazine, or walk away from your computer. This allows you to give the speaker your full attention!
O: Open to understanding, NOT judging. It is hard to be curious and learn about others if we judge them or think we know what is best for them. We all have our own unique thoughts, lens, and experiences. We can learn a lot from each other, if we are open to understanding rather than judging people.
As you enter conversations, remember to keep your focus on the speaker and stay curious as you learn about them. This is about them, NOT you.
R: Repeat through paraphrasing. This is a great way to ensure that you understand what the speaker is saying. It allows you to be on the same page. When we are not on the same page, a lot of assumptions are made, judgments are passed, and conversations become confusing – which leads to conflict.
Paraphrasing is also a great way to convey to the speaker: ‘I hear you, I see you, I understand you’ in this moment, rather than fixing or solving something for them that was unsolicited.
You know what I am talking about. When someone comes to you and vents, you want to help by making everything better and tell them what to do. DON’T. Paraphrase instead.
B: Be calm among your gremlins. The gremlins are those pesky voices in one’s head. We all have them. They can be a ticker tape of to-do lists, judge others, and/or compete with our ability to actively listen.
By consciously being aware of them, you are able to turn down those voices and give the speaker your full attention to ABSORB what is being said.
Tip: Remembering to enter each conversation and ABSORB what the speaker is saying (rather than each and every component) will help you stay present and focused on the speaker to see, hear, and understand them. This alone will help you be more confident and create an impact with anyone you speak with.
2. Choose to listen in a way that focuses on the speaker while staying open and non-judging.
You may be thinking, “Choose how to listen? We either listen or we don’t, right?” Sort of. While choosing NOT to listen is absolutely a choice, I believe there are other choices you always have when listening. How we choose to listen determines how we process the information we are hearing.
So, we can choose to process the information through our own lens, thoughts, and experiences and judge/compare the speaker based on our own experiences. In your head, this choice sounds like “I think you …., I want you to.., I need you to…”
This choice of listening keeps your inner focus on self rather than on the other person. This choice doesn’t leave a lot of room for learning or curiosity. It is limiting, as we feel we know what is best based on our thoughts and experiences.
Next, we can choose to keep the focus on YOU. In this choice, we process the information and judge the speaker in the speaker’s own context. This sounds like “helping” or “fixing and solving”. We think we are helping and fixing and solving when we are really judging.
This sounds like “You should…, you need to…, you can’t..” This choice is also limiting as we think we are focusing on the speaker by helping them without learning anything about what is going on for them or what they want to do.
Another option is choosing to listen with understanding. In this choice, we choose to keep the focus on the speaker. We suspend all judgment and are completely open.
This is NOT about us – this is about them. And the only thing to do is listen and be curious to learn from them. This choice sounds like “what are you going to do? How are you…? When can you…”
When we suspend our judgment and stay open and curious, opportunities and possibilities become available that otherwise wouldn’t. This is how we collaborate and innovate – connecting and learning from others. This is how we have better conversations: conversations in which we feel confident.
Finally, there are times when you have skin in the game and you have a vested interest in the outcome. There is an opportunity to be curious to learn, while also meeting your needs in the outcome.
So this sounds like “We need to leave at 5 pm. What do you need from me so we can leave on time?” OR “I have another meeting in an hour. How can we structure this meeting so we get what is needed done before I have to leave?”
How you choose to listen will directly influence the quality of your conversation and its outcome. It is important to note that there is a time and place for every choice of listening. I found that choosing to focus on others and understanding people helped me be more confident. What also gave me confidence was understanding that I ALWAYS had a choice.
3. Ask open curious questions to better understand the perspectives of others.
The fastest and easiest way to be more confident and hold a better conversation is to shift the focus from one’s self to another person. This can be done by asking open questions, questions that begin with who, what, where, when, and how.
We can sometimes hold judgment, especially when emotion is involved, so be very cautious. An interesting finding is that not many people have a lot of practice asking open questions, so they often feel awkward asking them. However, with practice, they become second nature.
If you find yourself struggling with an open question, just put a “what” or “how” in front of your thought. If you get super stuck, “tell me more” is also a great way to keep the conversation open, curious and confident.
With the advances in technology, high quality, confident conversations are becoming harder to have. We all have less practice, less time, less focus, less confidence. The cool part is, curiosity gives us more of everything. It fills us up. It is how we learn, connect, engage, discover, inspire and interestingly enough, it also makes us happy.
When we are curious about others, we feel good. This feeling helps us stay relaxed in conversations with others. Neuroscience research supports this. When we are curious and ask questions, there is a mind/ heart connection. Dopamine and oxytocin are released; brain chemicals that make us feel good.
This means that, with curious conversations, we feel more confident and connected to others – even in conflict. It doesn’t get any better than that.