Yesterday I was in Tim Horton’s coffee shop. My brother and I know all the employees there and we were talking to one that is a little more shy than the others. We started joking with her, and she was happy and responsive. Then we ramped it up a little in terms of the joking. She seemed overwhelmed, and her body language showed us she was uncomfortable with our “rock-em, sock-em” approach. S
o, we toned it down a little and started talking about her day and did some basic rapport building. Her body language became open, showing she was cool with this, and we talked for a few minutes. She left happy.
Later that night, I went to get a coffee for the next morning (Yes, I’m addicted). The new employee at the register was more outgoing, and was giving me a hard time, so I ramped it up. As she was putting three creams in my coffee, I said “I know what three creams looks like, and I am going to check the color of my coffee to make sure you didn’t mess it up!” She took the lid off, and showed me the coffee. I said “that looks like 3 1/2 creams to me.” We joked back and forth until she said “you aren’t tough; you are ugly…have you looked in the mirror recently?” I replied “Yeah, and I was very impressed with what I saw.” She laughed and jokingly said “oh, get out of here!” and the woman in line behind me, hearing this whole exchange, burst out into laughter.
In these two instances, I practiced “read and feed” (a pun on weed and feed, in case you haven’t noticed). It is a simple four-step process that is rooted in the concept of flexibility. You “read” a person’s reaction and then “feed” the conversation accordingly. Good conversationalists do this naturally. If this doesn’t describe you, it may take some effort, but it is so simple and effective, it is worth your time.
1. Interact with someone
This is simple. Any time you are engaging someone, you are interacting!
2. Check for their feedback (Read)
When you are interacting with others, they always give feedback. They may not come out and evaluate you with their words, but their body language and responses will tell you how you are doing. If you pay attention, you can easily tell if you are successfully interacting with someone. If they seem bored, disgusted, creeped out, etc, then you are getting negative feedback. If they are laughing, smiling, touching you, etc, then you are doing great! If they go quiet, cross their arms, tell you that you are creepy in a firm way, or point their body in the other direction, you aren’t doing so well.
3. If they give positive feedback, keep doing what you are doing. If negative feedback, change your method (Feed)
If they are reacting positively, having fun, etc, then just keep doing what you are doing. It is working. However, if you are getting negative responses, then change it up. If you came on too soft, come on stronger. If you came on too strong, tone it down. If you came across as creepy, show them you are safe and normal.
One easy way to “feed” the conversation and recover is to simply build rapport. The best way to do this is to just take interest in another person. Ask them about their day. Comment on something they are wearing. Whatever. Building rapport is safe and breaks down barriers.
Until you end the conversation, you will want to check occasionally to see how you are doing.