Saturday, October 12, 2013

Ask Three Questions

I often struggle with small talk. I know it’s the grease that smoothes comfortable interaction between two people, but that doesn’t make it any easier. I don’t just want to talk about clichéd rubbish, but how do you start a conversation?

Like a lot of people, I am quite shy about talking to others in certain situations. We all fear being judged or laughed at for saying something silly. Whenever someone I talk with is naturally interesting and charming, I try to analyse what it is about that person that makes them so easy to talk with. And of course see if I can emulate it in the future!

I read something interesting the other day. It was in an article about a women with a school-aged son with autism. She was teaching him how to engage well with others, and was training him to ask someone three questions before he spoke about himself.

This advice has stuck with me because I’ve not heard it so clear cut before. I know it’s more polite to ask after others than to talk about yourself, but for some reason I have thought about this lady’s advice quite a lot.

Remembering back to different conversations I have had with people, it is the people who ask more questions than talk about themselves that I seem to like more, and that is because it makes them seem interested in you.

I have tried the Three Questions technique a few times now, and am happy to report that it works! Plus the bonus is that it’s an easy thing to remember. More often than not, before you get to three questions, a conversation is sparked off and you’re away anyway, no struggle or awkward silence necessary.

I have been reluctant to ask questions in the past as I have not wanted to seem nosy, but there are plenty of open-ended questions you can use that are friendly and interested, not rude and cheeky.

Part of making this technique a success, and any form of interaction with others really, is to be aware of subtle cues as to whether someone is uncommunicative. It’s awful to watch a conversation where one party is uncomfortable or bored rigid and the other is blathering on not even noticing if they are being heard or not.

I really, really hope I am not like that and it’s something I am constantly working on. When in doubt, stop talking and just listen, or enjoy a little bit of quietness for a minute or two!

I use the Three Questions technique in the shop too when I am serving customers, whether I know them well or have just met them, and it seems to make the whole serving experience more normal and natural.

I’m like a mystery shopper everywhere I go now. As I have shopping experiences I look at the person serving me and see how I am treated and if I can either take some tips from it if it’s good, or avoid being like that it if it’s bad.

I do know that I am always really flattered if a shop assistant asks me a question, beyond of course the annoying, chirpy ‘how are you today, got any plans later on, is it your day off’ all in a row. If there’s nothing actually to chat about, I am happy with eye contact and a smile, and I try to remember that when I am serving.

Have you ever had an experience where a shop assistant just won’t shut up? Ghastly! The thought of possibly being that person keeps me quiet, or else I ask a (pertinent and not too nosy) question and just listen.

The image above is Paris in 1914, borrowed from


  1. I am terrible at communication myself as i'm extremely shy and an introvert. Can you post some of the questions you ask? Cause all i can think of are: how are you, how was your day?

    xo Stephanie

  2. Great topic today, it's relevant for many people, including myself. As someone else asked, what are some of the questions you pose?

  3. I have a horrible time making conversation especially if I'm not really interested in what the other person (s) are talking about. I know it's terrible isn't it? But sometimes I just don't want to make the effort. I'm more of an introvert and find myself making friends more with people who are talkative, I guess it balances out things! I'm more comfortable listening. Also, I often feel I am interrupting when I try to "mingle." Since I am soft spoken often times people can't hear me when I do chime in on conversation. It seems peoples voices are getting louder (or it's just me getting older!). I've always envied those with the gift of gab but at the same time sometimes I feel they reveal too much. In many cultures the question "what do you do?" is considered rude. I guess things can get complicated if you let it?!

  4. I try to ask questions when with a group...especially a new group of peeps. What amazes me is how often I will ask (not too personal) questions, get responses, and not have a question asked of me in return. Hubs and I were at a gathering the other night with some friends we don't know very well. We asked how each of the two other couples met each other and got their great stories. Later, after we left, I asked Brett if he noticed no one asked for our story. He hadn't at the time but was surprised by it. We talked about how often that really does happen. Oh well. At least there was always lively conversation during the evening. :) xo H

  5. The kind of questions I ask depend on the person. If I already know them I will ask after family/kids, work, holidays plans etc. A family friend always asks 'What's new with you' I have noticed, which is a good general question to get things started. It's more about consciously thinking to 'ask a question' rather than just talk about myself. Vintagefrenchchic you are so right - many do not ask questions at all. But sometimes I realise the person I have been talking with is so skillful at asking questions that I haven't asked many back to them. Generally though, most people just don't think about it and happily talk about themselves all day long. And that's fine with me, I can keep my mystique and they think I'm wonderful because I'm interested in them (and I genuinely am interested). Another conversation starter I use often is to compliment someone on their looks - new hairstyle, something they are wearing etc, if I can genuinely find something to compliment.

  6. Rather complicated bc it seems so mood related as well. I worry more that I would be boring people and they are trapped. At least on a blog they don't have to read it but in real life things are so different with strangers. I have no trouble talking to people I know and also complete strangers in contact for a few minutes I'm great but the trouble lies in cocktail parties...I just have to drink and use Dutch courage sometimes but I would rather sit on my own rather than worry I am imposing boring stuff onto someone. But interesting bc I did think about this one for a bit...

  7. You're back! You're back! I'm so thrilled you are back!!! I missed you terribly!

    Emily at alovelyinconsequence.blogspot

  8. I also found it helpful to think about the way your question is worded. In other words , if your question can be answered with one word such as yes , no , fine, good etc.. you can almost count on silence as you scramble to think of something else to ask. Also found when someone answers your question sometimes if you smile and give then a look of .. and ?? which usually is followed with a second or two of silence they usually continue to speak or spill their guts as it were. More times than not the title the Art of Conversation should be titled the Art of Listening. Most people do not seem to practice or concern themselves with listening Why ? because people are people mainly concerned with their views , what they have to say and how brilliant they express themselves . If more people researched , wrote and considered the Art of Listening instead of the Art of Conversation ironically conversation would not be such a task . Over and over the experts conclude the most brilliant conversationalists are the people who have the best listening skills.

  9. Sounds a wonderful plan to keep from rabbiting on about oneself and to help to get to know others. One thing I would love to tell my hairdressers is that I don't want to chat while they are working on my hair. I want to relax and enjoy the luxury of the experience, in silence. I think if someone gives very short answers to the three questions, that might be a hint...

  10. Oh my gosh, the best advice ever. I am trying to network more and more so that when my mystery book comes out I have some contacts in that world and it is so difficult for me at times. I love the "how did you meet?" question for a group. Brilliant.

  11. Great article! not a small talker myself. great tips!


Merci for your comment. Wishing you a chic day!

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