When you’re allowed to go on dates again.
Do you ever feel lost for words on a first date? You’re not alone if you do. In a recent survey by OurTime, we discovered that while 85% of singles feel confident messaging while online dating and texting, only 36% of them feel comfortable making face-to-face conversation on a date.
Why we don’t know what to say
The reasons behind feeling tongue-tied are varied. You might feel shy or stressed meeting someone new. You might be scared of saying the wrong thing. If you’re a man, it might even be scientific: research has shown that men temporarily lose intelligence when they’re talking to someone they fancy. But it’s not your age. Our survey discovered that younger dates are even less confident talking in person.
To help you out, here are three simple techniques you can use to help the first-date conversation flow more smoothly. Practise them in your everyday life, and then use them to make perfect conversation on a date.
1. Ask open-ended questions
Did you have a nice day today? Yes? Good. Um, have you got anything fun planned for the summer? No? Oh. Have you ever noticed that some conversations are like pulling teeth? Me too! So let’s talk about an easy way to change that.
Interviewers and journalists quickly learn to stop asking questions that can be answered with just a couple of words. Instead, they ask open-ended questions designed to extract a little more information. These questions are fun to answer, and quickly turn a stop-start conversation into a flow.
Why open-ended questions work
“How was your day?” won’t get you both nattering like old friends. But a more open-ended version of that question, such as: “What’s been the best bit of your day so far?” encourages your date to open up, without feeling interrogated.
You can easily change a simple question like, “Do you enjoy your job?” into a far more interesting, “Have you always wanted to be in that line of work?” and discover all about your date’s life and how they ended up in their present career.
In the interests of science, I practised this technique with my teenage children over dinner last night. Instead of asking them, “How was school?” (which has always only produced a grunt, shrug or eye-roll), I asked them: “Tell me something that happened today that really made you laugh.” Their eyes lit up and suddenly we were swapping the funniest parts of our day.
Good open-ended questions for dates
Practise asking everyone an open-ended question, until you’ve built up a repertoire that always receive fun, varied answers. For example:
- What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
- What’s your least-useful talent or ability?
- Who’s the most famous person you’ve ever met?
- Which scene from a film or book always makes you cry?
- What last made you laugh till your stomach ached?
- What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned this week?
2. Stick to light-hearted topics
In OurTime’s recent survey, we also asked daters which topics of conversation they enjoy the most on early dates.
The clear winners were the simple, neutral subjects.
The best and worst conversational topics
79% of daters like to talk about their hobbies and passions. 65% like to discuss their careers, and 64% enjoy chatting about their families.
The top conversational turn offs, in contrast, were the “deep” topics. 82% of daters don’t want to talk about money; 76% don’t want to discuss previous partners, and 75% don’t want to talk about sex.
Hold back on the true confessions
If you’re someone who likes to get up-close and personal during early dating conversations, consider dialling back just a little. Access-all-areas honesty obviously has its place in relationships, but that place is usually not on your profile, in early messages, or on the first three dates.
Why moderating your honesty is important
It’s easy to give the wrong impression of yourself when you reveal everything early on. Remember, new people don’t know you, so the significance of anything you say is magnified.
For example, let’s say you’re overdrawn this month and really worried about money. If you tell your best friend about it, they won’t judge you. They’ve known you for so long, through good times and bad, that they’ll just care about you and hope you’re OK. But a new date doesn’t have that kind of perspective. They might wonder instead if you’re a bit of an over-spender, or really disorganised, or asking for a loan.
To avoid creating the wrong impression, stick to fun, neutral topics in the beginning. When you’ve got to know each other, you can reveal more of your innermost secrets.
How to master the art of discretion
If you’re someone who often reveals personal information early on, you might need time to get used to keeping things light and breezy. So when you’re talking to acquaintances or colleagues, practise keeping conversations focussed on neutral topics like holidays, social plans, hobbies, films and books. Then carry that on when you go on dates.
3. Be interested, not interesting
As Dale Carnegie said in How to Win Friends and Influence People: “You can make more friends in two months by becoming genuinely interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”
When we’re interested in someone, we naturally want to impress them. We rake our minds for the most interesting things about ourselves and try to manoeuvre them into the conversation. Or we leap onto things we have in common, however tenuous, leading us to blurt things out like, “I breathe in and out too! What are the odds?”
I know you’d never bang on about yourself incessantly, but when was the last time you practised really listening to what someone else was saying? Without thinking of a similar anecdote you could share in reply, or wondering what they’re really thinking, or even just wishing they’d hurry up and get to the point?
How to become a better listener
Start practising today. Let someone talk and just focus on absorbing their words. You’ll notice so much more; you’ll catch unusual choices of words, or subjects that make their eyes light up. These are the things they love, their real passions, what makes them tick, so listen!
Being a good listener also makes it much easier to keep a conversation going. Instead of having to think of a clever reply, you can simply ask pertinent questions like, “I noticed you called that child a ‘bairn’ — were you raised in Scotland?” Or, “You really seem excited about your audition! Have you always been interested in acting?” Few people can resist the charm of being listened to in this way.
This feature was originally published on OurTime.