Making friends: Get those conversation sparks to ignite

2012-02-02T00:00:00Z Making friends: Get those conversation sparks to igniteOpinion by Barbara Russek Special To The Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

While attending a meeting recently, I found myself sitting across the table from a woman I had met at a holiday party this past December. To start the conversational ball rolling, I asked her how she had enjoyed the party. "Not so much," was her reply. In a word, she'd felt neglected.

To console her, I reminded her that I had asked her several open-ended questions, learning a little about her personal life, professional background and so on. Then I asked the big one: "What do you remember about me?" I braced myself for the answer I knew was coming.

"Nothing," she replied, somewhat sheepishly.

The reason for this was simple. She had taken no interest in me at all.

This experience got me to thinking about a column I wrote a few weeks back on that most rewarding but complex of relationships: friendship. I had not touched on the first piece of the friendship puzzle: How can one person create an initial spark with another, then help that spark ignite?

Tucson is one of the fastest-growing cities in the country. So many folks are moving here, with most hungry for connection with others. Organizations such as The Newcomers Club of Tucson and Shalom Newcomers attest to this.

There is a plethora of books on the subject of making new friends. And let's not forget my late mother's advice to picture every person wearing a big sign that says "I want to feel important."

But how does all of this information translate into specifics of making that first person-to-person contact? I decided to brainstorm this issue with a few friends, including Chrysanne, who always says that great conversation is her favorite hobby.

Here are a few of our ideas.

• Make an effort to attend events where you will have something in common with others. Yes, there is always a possibility that you will engage in meaningful conversation with someone while you're both thumping melons for ripeness at the grocery store, but the odds of that are slim.

• At social events, avoid the path of least resistance - hanging out all evening with folks you already know - and approach someone you haven't met. Further, why not push your own friendship envelope by talking to someone whose appearance (including hairstyle, makeup, clothing, tattoos or body type) may not meet your approval.

• You are introduced or just start talking to someone in a social setting. Like most folks, do you go on automatic pilot by using one of the usual conversation starters, such as "Where are you from?" My friend Frances thinks there's nothing wrong with a typical conversation starter, but then follows that up with an open-ended question.

That makes good sense to me. For example, I am frequently asked at social gatherings about my background. I reply that I was a French teacher for many years. A typical rejoinder is for the listener to immediately bounce the conversational ball back to himself or herself with comments on how he or she took French in junior high school back East and remembers essentially nothing. Where do you go from there?

It would really warm me up if an open-ended question about my background (such as, did knowing the French language enhance my experience while traveling abroad) piggybacked on top of "What do you do?"

• If someone asks you to tell them a little about yourself, remember that a little doesn't mean an autobiography. My friend Richard notes that if he hears his voice too much in his own ears, he knows it's time to quickly wrap up his point and give the floor back to his listener.

• Pretty soon, both of you may realize you are enjoying the conversation and want to get together again. At this point, business cards or even phone numbers or emails on a napkin are exchanged. Are these cards and napkins thrown away, stuffed in a drawer or actually used? Why not be the first one to make a call and suggest getting together for anything from a lecture to coffee and schmoozing?

Most adults feel as nervous about meeting new people as they did back in high school, when they needed the security of their own little clique. Isn't it time for us all to grow up and enjoy a variety of people in our community? It may take a little effort to make friendship happen, but the results can last a lifetime.

Barbara Russek welcomes comments at Babette2@comcast.net

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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