Communication skills exercises, part 11: Quick and dirty escapes from conversation lulls

June 30, 2013 by Joshua
in Blog, Exercises, Tips

[This post is part of a series on Communication Skills Exercises for Business and Life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Don’t you hate getting stuck in a conversation lull? Neither person knows what to say. The conversation loses momentum. If you just met the person, you start to wonder if the relationship will never get off the ground — a serious problem if you’re working on a sale, trying to get hired, trying to attract someone.

Compounding the problem, not knowing what to say tends to happen more when you consider the other person more important than you. People often feel that way in the situations I just listed.

Lulls are inevitable, so you might as well find ways to get out.

Today’s exercise gives four quick and dirty ways to get out of a lull. They won’t energize or completely revitalize a relationship, but they’ll give you a chance to restart meaningful dialogue. Sometimes that’s all you need.

The four ways are sentence fragments that introduce concepts that convey emotions and that you care about. They are short enough to remember easily and long enough that in the time you say them you can figure out how to finish them, usually just by looking around you.

(Note I’m not saying pausing in conversations is bad. I’m offering an alternative for when you don’t want that lull.)

Four sentence beginnings that work

Today I’ll present four beginnings of sentences that work. They are more for casual conversation than work, but with practice you’ll see how to edit them to use at work.

The sentence fragments are

You know what I love? I love…

You know what I hate? I hate…

You know what’s awesome?…

You know what sucks?…

If they seem too easy, that’s their value. You won’t forget them, especially if you do the exercise just below.

They work because they introduce emotions and emotions attract attention.

An exercise to practice and illustrate

To see how they work and get them working for you, start each fragment without knowing what you’ll say after and in the time you take to say them, create endings with something on your mind or in your field of view.

The first times you do it you may not come up with endings. That’s why you do the exercise now, by yourself. So you overcome the initial challenge. Then when you face a lull with a client or on a date, it comes naturally. (Or you can wait for your next lull, think “what was that exercise Josh suggested?”, regret not having taken two minutes to do it now, and come back and do it after suffering through that lull).


For example, I’ll do one of each, typing instead of talking. Take my word for it that I’m not preparing what to say after I start typing each.

You know what I love? I love that blogging has become so easy to do these days. Years ago it took a lot of work to start one. Now not only is it easy, but the software is actually fun to use. I like playing around with features and optimizing my web page.

Did I just start the next War and Peace? No, but I at least got sharing something I care about. If I were talking to someone, it would beat a lull and they could take an interest in it. More likely than if I just said “I write on my web page every day.”

You know what I hate? I hate that when we have abnormally warm days like today, I can’t enjoy them anymore. What used to feel like a lucky day now I worry if global warming might mean we’ll have warmer and warmer days all the time. I remember New York’s first super-mild winter. I felt like people didn’t really enjoy it because they were nervous.

I felt like I started getting into political talk so I wrote more slowly than the first example, but I think it went okay. People can talk about global warming comfortably. And again, I’ve shared emotion on something I care about. That may not be the best thing you can possibly do, but it beats helplessly sitting in a lull.

You know what’s awesome? It’s awesome to live in New York. I’ve said it many times and I’ll say it many more times. I know people who don’t really love where they live and I wish they did. To me this place feels like home, like I don’t have to try to enjoy life or figure the place out. I just can.

Here I got into a topic I talk and write about a lot. These exercises do that. They often put you in familiar territory, which can work well, especially after you find a few topics that people enjoy talking to you about. That’s an advantage of them.

You know what sucks? These days trying to go to a concert costs tons more than it used to. I wish they would just say someone has a monopoly and they’re using it to charge more. Now they add on things like “convenience costs” for something that actually saves them money — like electronic tickets. It makes me not go to events like that. I like what Louis C. K. did by selling his own tickets.

If you’re in a professional environment and don’t want to say “sucks” you can substitute “… is terrible.”

Anyway, you probably get the idea by now. Try the exercise a few times to prepare yourself for your next lull.

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