My wife gave birth to our daughter a couple of months ago and I took some weeks off of work in order to focus on my family.
It was a few weeks full of slowing down and coming to terms with the new situation: there’s now a baby in our lives which we have to care for! It was intimate, intense and isolating.
During the weeks after the birth, I pretty much had no contact to anyone outside of my wife and my immediate family – sometimes.
After getting back to work, I was driving out to a regular customer. I was expecting that I got a bit rusty after not interacting with people for the last couple of weeks.
As soon as I entered their office, it felt like I had stepped into a new world. It was like I now suddenly belonged to a secret society of parents. Since everyone knew about me becoming a father, there was an aura of ‘You are one of us now’.
Everyone was asking about my experiences before and during birth birth and the time after being home with the baby. And everyone gave me that feeling of ‘I totally understand, I had to go through the same’.
So, the couple of weeks following that was full of me sharing our approaches to all things related to taking care of the baby:
- Breastfeeding or formula? If it’s the latter, which brand?
- How are my wife and I arranging our sleep schedules around the baby?
- Is the baby crying a lot? How do we deal with that?
- What do we do to make the baby sleep?
- How to deal with unwanted presents from relatives? (There are so, so many presents…)
I’m happy to share these things with my colleagues, who are then happy to share their own strategies that they’ve used with their kids.
What dawned on me is that conversations with these topics have always been around me. My colleagues are all a bit older than me and their kids are also all a bit older than mine. So I’ve listed too many of these stories before.
But why did I not remember any of that?
How to have engaging conversations
Enough talking about babies. Half of the people reading this have already left the page. Probably the half which doesn’t have kids.
And this is the main take away I have from reflecting a bit on why all of the baby talk is suddenly so engaging to me, when I used to completely zone out when my colleagues were talking about it in the past.
If you have no interest in the topic at hand, you’ll get bored and disengage with the conversation.
We have a majority of people in my team who are parents. But not all of them are. And the small minority gets really silent whenever the subject of the conversation switches to kids. Just as I did in the past.
But there is an exception. One of my colleagues doesn’t have kids herself, but she has a lot of friends who do. So she is able to somewhat relate to the topic and doesn’t zone out like the rest of the non-parents.
And that’s what you should also try to do when you find yourself in a similar situation. You have to try and find something which you can relate to and engage with.
Before I became a father (in the last 1-2 years), I was still able to talk about my co-workers’ kids if I try to steer the topics into an area which I have a direct interest in, like education and psychology. So let’s talk about how the school education has changed since I’m out of school. Or what psychological tricks you’re using to get your kids to do what you want.
This way, I can still be a part of the conversation and both people get to talk about things that are interesting to them. This all leans into a quote I’ve heard by an author called Gene Youngblood:
An interested person is an interesting person.
When you belong to a group where everyone has shared interests, then there is always stuff to talk about. Like other parents. Or other sports fans. In South Korea, there is even a specific term for ‚drinking friends‘, aka friends you go out to drink with (but don‘t do anything further with them).
Have you ever wondered why so many people bonded when they are talking during a smoke break?
How to get in?
Well, it‘s quite simple. Just have a kid. Ok, kidding… or not? Yes, definitely.
The answer is still simple.
Whenever you talk to a new person, lead the conversation with your interests and passions. Many people run on a small-talk-auto-pilot whenever they talk to somebody they don‘t know yet.
Where do you come from? What do you do? What are your hobbies?
To not get the most boring and generic answers, you have to stop asking boring and generic questions.
What I like to do is hook the other person with a statement or anecdote about something I‘m interested in. ‚Have you seen Avengers Endgame? It‘s so crazy to think that there are 10 years worth of movies leading up to such a phenomenal finale!‘
Then, the other person basically has to choices:
- Start fanboying with me for the next 2 hours about who their favorite Avenger is.
- Admit that they have no interest in Marvel/super hero movies or movies in general.
If I get a positive response, I‘ve already won the other person over. If the answer is negative, I have at least learned something about them. I would then try to give them 1-2 more hooks to try and see if there is any obvious common ground. After that it can become quite awkward.
That‘s when it‘s time to shift it to the other person and ask them some questions. I really like ‚What are you passionate about lately?‘. So instead of shooting into the dark and hope that you hit something, you can get straight up answers.
Are the things they are talking about interesting? Then start asking follow-up questions. Try to do that with anyone who has experience in the medical field. They have the craziest stories and they’re not shy to tell them!
So the basic principle is very simple: offer information about yourself and ask them to open up. Then you can judge whether there is any common ground. If there isn‘t then that‘s okay. It just shows that you might not be too compatible with the other person and you might not be part of any common group.
So in a sense, as long as you are honest and authentic when talking to somebody new, you have nothing to lose.