If either of you went over 5 minutes without the other talking, the listener would say “stop.” Then the talker could be aware that they are droning.
In this exercise you’d pause between turns to log the time each spent talking. At the end of the exercise you’d show each other the numbers. If one of you continually talked up to 5 minutes, then s/he needs to be more conscious of their monopolizing the time.
The goal of this exercise is not to “win” by having the lowest cumulative time. In fact, you could be a jerk and answer the other’s questions with one- or two-word responses. That gets tiresome quickly. I recently stopped communicating with someone who asked me to text him and then he only responded with one-word answers. It was too much work to try to have a conversation. So I dropped it — and him.
In emails, on the phone, or in person, work to end your comments with a question, even it’s just mirroring back their question.
Person A: “Where were you born?” Person B: “I was born in XXXX. Where did you grow up?”
A: What do you love about your job?” B: “That’s a good question. I love the flexibility, variety, good compensation and ability to see the world. What’s your favorite part of your job?”
A: “Why are you divorced?” B: “We realized we wanted different things in the future. What precipitated your break up?”
A: “Do you have kids?” B: “Yes, I have 3 kids, all grown and out of the house. What about you?”
A: “What do you like to do for fun?” B: “I like a variety of activities, including biking, hiking, dancing, theater, concerts, movies, trying new restaurants, cooking, gardening, reading and listening to NPR. What are some of your favorite recreational activities?”
If you already know his answer to the question he asked you, you can use this to either dig deeper into the question or switch topics.
As much as possible, try to avoid a preponderance of “reporting questions,” e.g., “How was work?” “What did you have for lunch?” “Did you talk to your mom today?” unless there are extenuating circumstances that would make that question important (e.g., his mom recently moved to a nursing home and he’d shared his concern about her adjusting).
So you want to make your answers pithy, without being curt, and ask them a question to pass on the potato to them with your question.
In the advanced version, we’d cover open-ended vs. closed-ended or limited-answer questions and how to avoid the latter. Why? Because closed-ended (generally beginning with who, what, where, when or how) get people to answer too briefly to get to know much about them. By asking open-ended questions/statements (tell me about, share with me, elaborate on, help me understand, as well as some how, what and even why questions), you get more information about the person.
By practicing these ideas with a pal you can give each other feedback and kudos. Don’t be afraid you’ll feel stupid — when you’re learning or improving any skill, you will, no doubt, do it poorly at first. Allow yourself to not be perfect, and just listen to the feedback and practice some more.
Here are some other postings I’ve written on this topic:
So, how have you learned to better your conversational skills? What do you know you could still improve on? (You knew I’d have to ask!)
Want other ideas on what you can do to turn more first dates into seconds? Get your copy of First-Rate First Dates: Increase the Chance of a Second Date.