There she was, inches away from me.
Today was the day, I just knew it. Today, I was finally going to talk to her!
I felt my stomach turn. My hands felt clammy. I looked around. Is everyone in the room just waiting for me to fail?
Seconds pass. Then minutes.
“If I talk to her now, it’ll seem weird! I’ll try tomorrow.”
This cycle repeated for an entire semester. I never talked to her. (Despite sharing a very small table with her for FOUR MONTHS.)
Ugh. I’m shaking my head disapprovingly through time and space at my younger self.
Fast forward 10 years. I’ve started conversations with over 89,400 people.
I changed one small thing, and it changed everything.
And I’m about to teach it to you.
START A CONVERSATION WITH ANYONE USING CONVERSATIONAL MUSCLE MEMORY
There’s a phrase my mentor likes to say: “90% of the work is done before you enter the room.”
It’s easier to start a conversation after you’ve had a successful conversation.
So, how do you start those conversations?
Enter Conversational Muscle Memory.
Conversational Muscle Memory is built on the idea that when you start small, low-stakes conversations throughout your day, it's easier to start more conversations because you’ve built momentum.
Once you’ve built that momentum, it’ll be easier to start a conversation with that one person you really want to talk to.
You start your day by grabbing some coffee at a nearby Starbucks. The guy in front of you is looking at the food behind the glass case. He seems indecisive.
- You: “Gotta go with the banana bread. It’s my favorite.”
- Him: “Heh, there are so many choices, I can never decide.”
- You: “Just get them all.”
- Him: “Haha, then I might have to take the rest of the day off.”
You get to the counter and place your order.
- You: “So what time did you have to come in this morning?”
- Barista: “Oh, I got here at 5:30.”
- You: “Whew! That’s way too early for me, I need my beauty sleep.”
- Barista: *Chuckles* “Well, I’m kind of a morning person, so it works out.”
Congrats! Two conversations started, but you’re not done.
You call an Uber to work.
- You: “Hey, how’s your morning going?”
- Uber Driver: “Good, just getting started.”
- You: “Cool. You think you’ll have a busy day?”
- Uber Driver: “Probably, there’s that big conference downtown…”
Boom! That’s three, and you’re not even at work yet. Go you!
Notice how none of these conversation starters are particularly fancy. There's no such thing as the perfect line. The most effective starters simply use the shared situation or environment that you're both in.
WHY DOES CONVERSATIONAL MUSCLE MEMORY WORK?
In the 2010 Olympics, hockey star Sidney Crosby scored a game-winning goal for team Canada in overtime.
A reporter asked Crosby to take him through the game winning shot.
"I didn't really see it." Crosby replied.
Crosby was functioning purely on procedural memory. Procedural memory allows you to make a behavior automatic.
After practicing Conversational Muscle Memory, you don't think, you just do.
This creates an automatic cycle of starting conversations.
But what if you feel nervous when it's time to start a conversation?
I'm going to tell you one of my secrets...
I still get that anxious feeling right before I start my first conversation of the day.
Only I label that anxious feeling something else.
When I anticipate something, it changes the game completely. Suddenly, I can go from resistance to acceptance. It makes interactions so much more fun.
This subtle shift also changes my focus from myself and my internal state to other people and the environment around me.
Which is great for starting conversations.
But what about other people? Won't they think I'm weird for starting conversations with people?
Not really. They're too busy thinking about themselves.
There's this concept called the spotlight effect. It's responsible for the tendency of people to overestimate the extent in which others notice aspects of their behavior.
So I wouldn't worry about other people.
HOW CAN YOU START USING CONVERSATIONAL MUSCLE MEMORY?
There's a simple framework that will make it easy to get started today called If-When-Then.
Simply put: If-When-Then strategies give you an in-the-moment blueprint for new behaviors.
(I learned If-When-Then from Robert Cialdini’s new book Pre-suasion.)
When I get coffee at Starbucks, if there’s someone in line, then I’ll start a tiny conversation with them.
When I walk into work, if there’s someone near my desk, then I’ll start a tiny conversation.
Using the If-When-Then framework will help you become automatic. Just like Sidney Crosby.
Action step: For five minutes, brainstorm two typical scenarios where you could use If-When-Then.
When I _______, if there’s someone _______, then I’ll _______.
SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO?
When I laid out this strategy to one of my clients, he asked me:
“What if I start a tiny conversation, and I end up having to leave, or a rambler gets started talking about model trains or whatever weird thing they’re into?!”
100% valid question. My answer?
Have an exit strategy, of course.
- New Friend: “…And that’s why I moved to the city.”
- You: “Hey, [extends hand] it’s been great talking with you, but I’ve got to get going.”
Let this script be the safety net for you so that you can start as many conversations as you want.
Now that you have several tools in your Batman utility belt, what’s the next step?
Tomorrow, start two (or more) tiny conversations using Conversational Muscle Memory.
If you want to really supercharge your tiny conversations so that you can make fantastic first impressions, I have a free quick guide for The Friend Formula readers.
In the guide, I cover:
How to transition into small talk without feeling stilted or awkward. It's easier than you think, and it feels natural. If you miss this crucial step, it can easily derail a good conversation.
Why compliments are secret weapons that will immediately connect you with other people. Most people go their whole lives without figuring this one simple rapport building thing out.
About: Jeff Callahan helps ambitious people sharpen their social skills and charisma so that they can have more successful careers, relationships, and social lives. He’s been featured on Elite Daily, Pick The Brain, Introvert Spring, and others.
He comes bearing an exclusive gift for The Friend Formula readers: The Quick Guide To Making Fantastic First impressions
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