Group conversations are daunting for beginners.
But worry not, like most other things in life, it can be learned.
By the end of this post, you will know what are the top mistakes and the golden rules of awesome group conversations.
- Group Conversation: A Story
- Group Conversation Example
- Group Conversation: 3 Top Mistakes
- How To Converse Well In Groups
- Group Conversation: Summary
Group Conversation: A Story
Some days ago I was sitting in a cool bar having a beer and laughing along with the guys.
We were all having a great time. Everyone was engaged, everyone was listening and everyone was ready to jump in with their opinions.
Of course it helped we were talking about women, but that’s no guarantee of great group conversation as we will see.
As soon as Party Pooper barged in the conversation indeed… The mood immediately turned. Some nursed their beer, some looked away.. And everyone disengaged.
Party Pooper had effectively managed to bring the group from cohesive and engaged to removed and disjointed.
What had happened? How could the mood shift so quickly?
Well, the difference is all in the people who get group social dynamics, and those who don’t.
And that’s exactly this post’s topic, so let’s see what’s that difference:
Group Conversation Example
This is of course an approximation of the actual conversation, but the Party Pooper part is very close to what he actually said and the previous parts also reflect the overall exchange:
Guy Who Gets It: And what about Cristina, what do you guys think of Cristina
Guy 2: Physically not my type, I like though how she’s always kind and welcoming towards everyone
Guy Who Gets It: Not your type, what’s your type then…
Guy 2: blabla
Guy Who Gets It: Oh got it, you’re into X, I like that too, what do you think about Cristina, Guy 3
Guy 3: I dig her man, nice body shape and the boobs, man, blablabla
Guy Who Gets It: Damn those boobs (smiles). Guy 4 also appreciates her boobs (looks at Guy 4)
Guy 4: I would blablabla
(everyone laughs, ready to move on to some other topic / girl, when… )
Clueless Party Pooper: Oh yeah, about Cristina, I met this great guy at the conference in Rome, Paul. I was having a very deep conversation about her with Paul. We have a very good understanding, that guy is amazing
Everyone: *looking away*
Group Conversation: 3 Top Mistakes
You will notice that the Clueless Party Pooper makes a few mistakes all packed into one sentence. Let’s see which ones:
1. Beating a Dead Conversation Horse
The first conversation mistake is that he tries to bring back to life an already dead topic. That’s a mistake people sometimes do when they try to remember something but cannot. Then they finally do and say it even though the conversation has moved on. When that happens to you, don’t try to remember anything: you’re better off going with the flow instead.
That’s a minor issue though compared to the other two, which are:
2. Conversation Dead End
You will notice Party Pooper takes the conversation where it cannot go anywhere else.
Beautiful conversation are like an ebb and flow of an ocean wave. They come and go naturally between water and land. But be doesn’t pass the buck along to anyone else and neither does he throw any new meat on the fire.
He just goes on a new road, all for himself, and it’s a dead end road.
That’s another common mistake, and when it happens you will notice that there’s a pause when nobody says anything.
Eventually though the more shrewd conversationalists in the group or the most extrovert ones will jump in at that point and re-kindle the conversation with a new topic.
But what was really the last nail in the coffin from our Clueless friend was this:
3. Conversation Hijacking – And You Guys Are Out
The biggest issue of them all was that Party Pooper took a conversation that was all about the people in the group, all about “us” and swung it in the opposite direction.
Imagine an inclusive line, and that line was all around the group. Everybody was in it, and that’s one of the reasons why everyone was so engaged and enraptured.
With Pooper’s interjection it became instead “me and this other guy”. He basically took that red line and put it around himself and that new guy alien to the group. This is what he did with a picture:
And that’s why nobody said anything or wanted to add everything. It’s because everyone had been left out and with no way back in. And maybe, just maybe, everyone deep down wanted to highlight what a dumba** move the Pooper had once again done.
4. Conversation Social Climbing
If you dig deeper, you will also notice that this is yet another form of social climbing (check “social climbing in absentia“) because it basically does these three things:
- Aggrandizes a non present person
- Aggrandizes himself by association
- Demeans the people around
First of all Party Pooper throws a name of a guy at a conference nobody else attended and lavishes praises on Paul. If the person were famous, it would have been typical name-dropping and social climbing by association (check an example with Tai Lopez). Since nobody knew this guy, he needed to build him up first, which looked like he was fawning on him and equally bad as name dropping.
He then proceeds to build this special connection with this supposedly great guy by associating himself with him -“deep conversation”, also a slight dig at our conversation-.
As we’ve seen a couple of times, the worst kind of social climbing don’t people don’t just raise the climber’s status, but lower the status of others as well. Here it’s a bit less obvious, but it’s there.
By hijacking the conversation and building this “special understanding” with this great guy outside of the group he is indeed also slightly demeaning us. Nobody in the group was allowed into their little bubble and nobody was given the stage afterwards. Notice also that he doesn’t share what the content of the conversation was, making it seem as if the group wasn’t exclusive and special enough to hear about it.
Subconscious Fu*k You
Unless you read a website such as The Power Moves -in which case kudos to you :)- most people are unlikely to consciously understand or even reflect on what happened. However, don’t let that fool you: on a less conscious level everyone notices.
If anyone in that group were to have a party, what do you think are the chances Party Pooper will be invited? 🙂
Indeed albeit there’s no conscious understanding, the consequences are very much real and concrete. People will feel zero rapport with people behaving like Party Pooper and will probably not like him all that much.
How To Converse Well In Groups
How to be successful in group conversations, then?
It’s about bringing a positive mood and having everyone engaged (positive doesn’t necessarily mean laughing BTW).
Guy Who Gets It, as the name suggests :), does a lot of good things, let’s see a few of them:
1. Passes The Conversation Microphone
You will notice from the conversation at the beginning that Guy Who Gets It is working as a connector. He is asking an opinion to one guy, then adds a bit of comment, and passes the packet to another guy to further enrich the conversation.
He is allowing everyone to participate and chip in. That’s why everyone is drawn in: everyone knows that his opinion matters and that his time to speak will come soon, so they care about listening and understanding what the others are saying.
2. Refrains From Too Many Comments
People who mostly take the moderator role and “pass the mic around” should know that the risk is that they might hog the conversation if they talk too much about each topic.
You will notice indeed that Guy Who Gets It doesn’t talk at length about his own opinions. He just adds very quick remarks -“I like that too”, “damn those books”- and passes the mic along.
3. Brings People Together
The other risk of being the one passing the mic is that you end up with a group which is too dependent on the moderator, with the group ending up like this one here (a Star Network type of the geekiest among you):
Star networks are fragile because they’re dependent on the central node.
So for building effective group relationships one should let the other nodes take part as well. Back to people’s world, that means especially to let less talkative and shier people chip in and connect directly between themselves.
You will notice Guy Who Gets It says “Guy 4 Also Appreciate Those Boobs”, basically bringing Guy 3 and Guy 4 together as two people who both share the same tastes and liking.
Normally Guy 3 and 4 will also look at each other and add a few comments, which brings the two closer together. With a good, engaged atmosphere, more people will jump in, thus strengthening the bond between them and bringing the group further closer together, more like this:
This is also a great way to introduce people by the way. Find a connection or commonality between them and use it for an introduction. For example:
Matteo, meet Catherine, she also loves cooking
Caterina, meet Matthew, he also plays in a band.
That way you make the group closer.
4. Asks Deeper questions
Albeit the conversation might, for some, not be of the deepest kind and group conversations with beers are not always conducive for opening up, Guy Who Gets It still goes for a quick dive.
When Guy 2 says Cristina it’s not her type of girl, that’s the perfect occasion to go a bit deeper and Guy Who Gets It asks what type of girls does he like then.
That’s deeper question than it might seem at first blush. Brene Brown in Daring Greatly righteously says we are on this earth looking for connections, and romantic connections are some of the deepest connections we form.
Thus asking about what type of partners one gel with is really getting to know a very important side of an individual.
Group Conversation: Summary
There are of course several other techniques for successful group socialization, but for now these will prevent some of the biggest blunders out there and will give you a solid foundation.
They work best for when you’re the moderator, the most extrovert one or the one who knows all the others in the group.
- Don’t form “us” groups with people outside the group
- Have everyone engaged
- Speak little if you’re the moderator
- Bring people together with commonalities or common stories
- Have quick, deeper incursions: those bond the best
And make friends and spread the good vibes 🙂