What can I say?

Recently I had a conversation with two young men, 14 and 16, who both consider themselves shy. Oh, they’re bright, and one is in the Gamer Club at his high school, but neither feels very comfortable talking to people, and they want to. They are both interested in dating, and know that being able to talk to someone successfully and comfortably are important on first dates, and also to sustain meaningful relationships. So, like Bonnie Raitt says, “Let’s give them something to talk about.” Here are a few hints:

1. Pay attention: In my experience, the most important skill in having a good conversation is to follow the conversation so that you’ll know what people are talking about and you’ll have an appropriate comment when it’s your turn to talk. You may need to put your cell phone down for a little while. Look at the person who’s speaking. Nod once in awhile. That makes the other person feel good.

2. You may be able to move the conversation to something you’re interested in: If you really have a hard time paying attention, because the subject is so boring, wait for an appropriate place to change the direction of the conversation. For example, your friends are talking about baby-sitting, which you don’t do. You could ask them if they ever take their kids to the movies, and them mention a cool movie that you just saw. Most people love to talk about the movies.

3. Find out what people are talking about in your school/community, and have some remarks already prepared in your mind to say about them. Is there a big game coming up? An interesting new song on the radio? A new restaurant in town? A social event, like the county fair, coming to town? How do you feel about them, and what would you like to share in a group?

4. Give more than a one-word answer: If someone asks you a question, give a bit of your experience about the subject. For example, if someone asks you if you play video games, don’t just answer, “Yes.” Mention one or two of your favorites and why. It may turn out that this person likes the same ones, and you can get together again sometime to play.

5. Don’t gossip: Think about it, if people hear you gossip about others, they’ll probably think that at some point you’ll gossip about them. Besides, gossip is often untrue. Two great gossip stoppers you can use are “I like [the person.]” and “I’m uncomfortable talking about others behind their backs. I wouldn’t want someone to do that to me.” That one takes guts, but teens can be gutsy.

6. Know yourself: Be ready to talk about your hobbies or interests. If someone asks you whether you like to do something, and you shrug your shoulders, they might think you’re avoiding them. You could say, “I don’t know.” But the response in another’s mind could be, “Why not? I asked you what you like. You’re the only one who can answer that!” If it’s because you’ve never tried it, say, “I don’t know because I’ve never tried it, but it sounds (interesting, scary, exciting, like a lot of fun, etc.”)

7. Have empathy for the other person: Imagine how the other person would feel about something you’d say. Honesty is still the best policy if you want people to trust you. If you’re shopping with a friend, and he tries on a shirt which is just the wrong color for him, or it says something inappropriate, and he wants to know if you like it, be diplomatic. Ask if they have it in a color that does look good on him, or if he wants to be limited by the comment. If someone treats you to dinner, and they ask how you like it, mention the things that you did like. If they’re sensitive, they may get the point that you didn’t like the other things. If they ask about them, say, “Well, it was new for me, and I’m not used to it,” or something like that.

8. Find a nice way to say “no” to a friend: This comes up in every relationship from time to time. We all have different experiences, and therefore have different ideas about things. We have different styles of doing things. Be honest and true to who you are. If a friend asks you to do something that you don’t think is right, you’ll have to say something like, “That goes against my family’s code, or against my religion,” and tell him why. He will respect you, even if he won’t have you to do it with. If he tries to persuade you, smile and say, “Sorry, not happening.” The smile lets him know you care about him, aren’t judging him, and the friendship still exists.

9. Confront a friend who is mean to you. If a friend says something mean or rude to you, and then says, “Well I was just joking.” Right then and there say, “Maybe you were joking, but that hurt my feelings, and I would like it if you wouldn’t joke around like that with me.” If he is your friend, it should stop.

10. Compliment others: As a teacher I used to periodically have a “compliment” circle. We’d sit in a circle on the floor, and everyone had to give a compliment about the person on their left. It couldn’t be about what they wore or how they looked, but how they were, or something they did. Wow, did we feel good when we were done. We all like to hear something good about ourselves. It’s a great conversation starter, and it’s as simple as, “Hey, nice move!”

11. Ask others questions about themselves: Most people love to talk about themselves. And as you are paying attention, you’ll find out areas you have in common and can talk about.

12. Google how to have a meaningful conversation. I found some good stuff for this article at www.succeedsocialy.com

Now that you’ve had a little coaching, get on the field and try it. The more you talk to others, the easier it gets. It used to be hard for you to write your name when you were 5, too, and now you don’t even think about it. Practice makes perfect in oh so many things.

• Hale Opio Kauai convened a support group of adults in our Kaua’i community to “step into the corner” for our teens, to answer questions and give support to youth and their families on a wide variety of issues. Please email your questions or concerns facing our youth and families today to Annaleah Atkinson at aatkinson@haleopio.org

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