Creating a Spark in your Social Interactions

I’ll never forget my first Tinder date way back when it was Plenty of Fish. After a little back and forth, it was time to take my online credibility offline to see if I could replicate a spark in the real world, which I can confirm—I fucking could not!

When I arrived at the venue, I went straight to the bar to A) get drinks, and B) see if my voice worked, and hopefully use it to strike up a rapport with the barman to give the confidence a much-needed boost.

The good news is I could talk. The bad news is I sounded like I was having a stroke. And with that revelation, I grabbed the drinks and prayed to God she’d be at least 30 mins late, affording me time to get my anxiety under control. I thought it was a fair request. The big man didn’t agree. With the first gulp of my pint still stuck in my esophagus and nowhere near the bloodstream, in she strolled…

If I can paint you a picture—picture one of those cringe-worthy awkward dates you see on reality TV—with a panic disorder thrown in for good measure!

Because there was no spark, the evening turned out to be painfully boring, but just because there wasn’t a spark, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to create a spark, right? And this goes way beyond getting laid. I’m talking about a social spark. I’m talking about people skills and having the ability to be fully present in the presence of someone you don’t know so you’re both enjoying yourselves.

Much of this comes down to a lack of practice and preparation—and acceptance that social skills can and should be worked on.

Maybe you shit yourself at the thought of a Networking event. Maybe you get sweaty palms when someone swipes right on your Tinder. Maybe you hate parties, day-to-day interactions or the thought of going to work because you struggle to create real connections with your colleagues. And perhaps that in itself is a contributing factor to you hating your job in the first place?

Relationships matter. Connection matters. Too many are walking around in a permanent state of loneliness because they deny the work that needs to be done instead of accepting the fact that a little work can go a long way to creating the life you want.

It all starts with a spark—words that make a mind perk up and think, “ok, this could be interesting.”

My chat was shit because I didn’t ignite any spark. A conversation with the Undertaker would have been more interesting. I didn’t uncover what made her tick and thread the conversation around that, so the evening ran as an interview—and a terrible one at that.

A boring conversation starts with a boring question, so the first thing you need to do when creating a spark is cut out the boring questions.

Sounds simple I know, but most of us have and initiate boring conversations every day. And there’s a reason for that: boring is comfortable.

If I’m stuck in a lift with you, I could ask if you’ve spotted any UFO’s recently or I could comment on the weather. Granted, you’d probably think I’m nuts if I went with the former, but which do you think you’d remember? Exactly. So why not practice novelty, and have a little fun in the process?  When they look at you like you’re an alien, just laugh and tell them you’re doing a social experiment where you have to ask strangers weird questions.

Vanessa Van Edwards, author of, “Captivate – The Science of Succeeding with People” had her research team carry out a study to identify the questions which most led to boring conversations.

Unsurprisingly, the three biggest culprits turned out to be the ones we use the most.

  1. What do you do?
  2. How are you?
  3. What brings you here?

They’re boring because there’s no novelty. We hear them every day. As a digital nomad, how often are you asked, “what do you do” before anything else? And how often do you ask it yourself?

If you’re truly interested in connecting with someone, you need to create an emotional connection.

Novelty makes the brain perk up. A spark creates dopamine, and you know how much we love our dopamine. One of your biggest competitors — their phone — is sitting in their pocket with an endless supply. Time to step up and compete!

A lot of us get caught in small talk because it’s comfortable. But for the good stuff — conversations you get lost in — you’ve got to go beyond your comfort zone and bring fresh topics to the table because therein lies the dopamine, and with that, they’ll want to go deeper and explore more.

The following questions were considered less boring and a catalyst for great conversation.

  1. What was the highlight of your day?
  2. What’s a personal passion project you’re currently working on? If you ask this question, you had better want to hear the answer because this is like crack to a digital nomad.
  3. Have anything exciting coming up in your life?

See how they differ? They’re not the mundane. They have to shut off auto-pilot, perk up and think.

Don’t forget to be interesting, you need to be interested. Most people these days are so fixated on being interesting that they forget to be interested. And that’s a problem.

Jazz your questions up how you feel fit and pay attention for cues to further thread the conversation towards that which will make them feel good about themselves. Because that’s what it’s all about—becoming a personal dopamine dealer and making a lasting impression.

A subtle change to the words you use to initiate an interaction can have a profound impact on your relationships in all walks of life. That’s crazy. Embrace it. You don’t have to be on all the time. That’s exhausting. But the more you practice a little discomfort in your interactions, the sooner you’ll land yourself in memorable conversations which will leave you feeling pretty damn good about yourself.

Finally, don’t forget to;

  • Ask their name
  • Shake their hand
  • Repeat their name
  • Remember their name
  • Make eye contact
  • BE INTERESTED.

And don’t be a dick.

If you’re interested in this stuff, I highly recommend the book, “Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People.” It’s an absolute belter.


Also published on Medium.

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