I couldn't help but overhear what she said about me to her friend as they walked away.
"He and I just had the best chat," she said. "What a wonderful conversation."
I smiled to myself, partly because I was pleased she enjoyed our conversation... but also because over the course of fifteen minutes I had probably spoken for all of thirty seconds. She did all the talking.
I just listened, occasionally saying things like, "What did you do next?" and, "Wow, that must have been really hard."
Why didn't I say more? Mostly because I'm fairly shy, especially when I'm one-on-one with people I've just met. So over time I've gotten fairly good at Social Jiu-Jitsu, the ancient art of getting people to talk about themselves.
SJJ is easy. Ask open-ended questions. Ask how they did something. Or why. Or what they liked about it, what they learned from it, what you should do if you're in a similar situation...
But keep in mind SJJ isn't required to get other people to talk about themselves. They're happy to do so on their own.
Research shows that approximately 40 percent of everyday speech is spent telling other people what we think or feel -- basically, talking about our subjective experiences. (Not what you had for lunch, but whether you liked what you had for lunch. And how you felt about the restaurant. And the service. And the ambience. And...)
In fact, we almost can't help sharing our thoughts and feelings: Research also shows that talking about ourselves, whether in person or on social media, triggers the same pleasure sensation in the brain as does money or food -- self disclosure causes increased activity in brain regions associated with the sense of reward and satisfaction from money, food and even sex.
In fact, the same study showed that many will actually turn down money in order to keep talking about themselves. Participants were offered money if they chose to answer questions about other people instead of about themselves -- and they voluntarily gave up between 17 and 25 percent of those potential earnings so they could keep talking about themselves.
Yep: You couldn't pay people to talk about someone else -- they'd rather talk about themselves.
Again, that's not because people are self-centered. (Well, at least not always.) We're wired that way. We're compelled to talk about ourselves.
That's how we're made.
And that's a good thing, especially if you're shy... and yet you also want to connect.
Think about it. No one gets too much recognition. No one gets enough attention.
By encouraging people to talk about themselves, by asking questions that show you respect their thoughts, their opinions, their perspectives, and their feelings... you implicitly show that you respect them.
And respect provides the perfect foundation for a connection, a professional relationship, or a friendship.
Plus, by letting people talk about themselves -- by helping people talk about themselves --you become seen as a great conversationalist, even if you actually say very little. Even if you're naturally shy. Even if you struggle in social settings.
And in the process, you also make other people feel better about themselves.
Can't beat that.