We all know that our opening words set the tone for any conversation and no more so than when addressing somebody for the first time. So, how do you start a meaningful conversation and avoid those awkward moments of silence?
Here we give our top tips on where to begin and how to keep the conversation flowing.
Non-verbal communication speaks volumes compared to what we actually say, so a warm, friendly approach is important in creating a relaxed atmosphere for a conversation to start and develop.
A genuine heartwarming smile and a friendly ‘Hello, how are you?’ is the simplest but most effective icebreaker there is.
Use the S.O.F.T.E.N. technique as a simple way of remembering good body language:
Smile – your smile is your opening line, before you even speak a word
Open up your posture – don’t cross your arms, instead show that you’re open to conversation
Forward lean - leaning forward slightly shows you are attentive
Touch - a simple handshake helps to make a connection
Eye contact – looking somebody in the eye when they’re speaking indicates that you’re a good listener
Nod when the other person talks - this shows that you want to hear everything they have to say
Remember to be sensitive to your client’s feelings and circumstances. Establish early on if there any sight or hearing problems that will have a bearing on how you approach them. Some older people may struggle to hear and so you may need to say words clearly.
Try to put yourself in their shoes and take your lead from their mood. Always be sensitive to their needs by asking yourself ‘do they look relaxed and happy or anxious and uncomfortable?’. Adapt your conversation accordingly.
Most conversations come naturally after the first few sentences. Start by talking about simple everyday topics, such as the weather, this can lead to a longer conversation about ways to stay warm over winter etc.
Then ask your client appropriate, relevant questions about themselves; if you know something the other person really enjoys doing then begin there, as we all like to talk about what we love, whether it’s a hobby or looking after a much-loved pet.
Simple subjects keep a conversation light and relaxed, making it possible to identify things you both like. Avoid controversial topics, such as politics, until you know each other better and even then be guarded about sharing your own views for fear of causing offence.
Sharing something you have in common can help spark conversation; the chances are that you live locally to each other, so why not share what you love most about where you live. Perhaps you have mutual friends and contacts.
If you’ve included your hobbies and interests in your profile then why not mention them. By talking about something you really love, you’ll find it easy to express yourself and your enthusiasm may encourage them to open up and talk. Ask your client a question related to what you said, for example, share the title of your favourite book, then ask the name of theirs.
Say the other person’s name occasionally throughout the conversation to put them at ease. It also adds a sense of intimacy, so is a good approach when talking about personal subjects.
An open-ended question cannot be answered with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’; by using the words who, what, when, where, why, and how you will lead your client to communicate their thoughts, feelings, and opinions.
Respond naturally by using facial expressions to denote empathy, and curiosity as appropriate for the conversation. A simple statement of what you have observed will let the person know that you care how they feel. For example, ‘you seem really proud of your garden’ ,‘from the way that you speak of them, it’s clear you love your grandchildren’.
Once you get a conversation started, the next thing is to keep it going to find out more about the other person and begin building a relationship. Listen attentively to their responses to determine your follow-up questions.
Watch for clues that the other person is talking about something that really interests them and continue asking questions to keep them engaged. Don’t interrupt with long comments of your own unless there is a pause.
Don’t get your mobile out of your bag and make sure it doesn’t ring and intrude on the time with your client.
Drawing a close to the conversation in a polite and friendly manner is just as important as to how you started it. Ask them how they’d like you to help next time; by talking about the future it’s easier for you to excuse yourself and say how you’re looking forward to the subsequent visit.