The Conversational Trick That Will Make Anyone Like You In Under A Minute

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two women having coffee together

The subtleties of human conversations never cease to amaze me.

I’m always analyzing human communication in-depth to learn the art of connecting with someone.

And in my analysis, I have discovered many tools that I use to enrich my conversations.

One such tool is the conversational alley-oop.

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A common metaphor for conversations is the game of tennis. But this only holds for zero-sum conversations, also known as arguments. In both arguments and the game of tennis, one has to lose for the other to win.

But to increase the enrichment you derive from your communications with others, you need to have more non-zero-sum conversations. These are the kind where every individual stands to gain something. An example would be a date-night conversation with your spouse.

A better metaphor for non-zero-sum conversations might be the game of basketball. All the individuals in the conversation would be on the same team. Dribbling the ball would equate to speaking, and passing the ball would be like asking a question to someone.

"Who are we playing against then?" you might ask. Well, we’re playing against the enemies of any good conversation — loneliness, arguments, one-upmanship, etc.

Now that we’ve talked about how good conversations are like a game of basketball, let’s talk about the conversational alley-oop. In basketball, an alley-oop is a special kind of pass where one player throws the ball really close to the basket, and a teammate would catch the ball mid-air and dunk it in the basket!

A conversational alley-oop then is a special kind of question that puts the person in front of you in a position to give a slam-dunk equivalent of an answer.

Let’s take an example. A few months ago, my father and I were having a chat. And I asked him: "You struggled so much in your twenties and thirties! How did you overcome all of that and get to where you are today?"

He then went on to tell me how he turned his life around. In excruciating detail, he told me about all the smart decisions he made and how he worked insanely hard to get to where he is today.

And while he told me all of this — he wore a smile that was too big for his face. And at that moment, I knew that I had successfully performed a conversational alley-oop.

Life is a series of games. You win some. You lose some.

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What’s important to understand is that everyone you meet has at least a few battles where they’ve emerged victorious. And they’re dying to tell these stories to the world.

If you can ask someone a question that puts them in a position to share a story that makes them feel great about themselves — then you can perform a conversational alley-oop.

When I was traveling to Gokarna, I met this woman who was a producer of big-shot TV shows for Indian television. And I knew that this was a truly great achievement.

So I asked her, "How’d you get that gig?" She replied, "I worked my a** off." It’s only obvious that she felt amazing saying that. Just like a basketball player feels amazing when performing a dunk.

Performing a conversational alley-oop isn’t that complicated. But it does take a fair bit of kindness, mindfulness, and humility to pull it off.

You have to care enough about other people to actually try to figure out their victories. It takes a certain degree of mindfulness to know when to use this tool. And without humility, you can’t be a good listener, which is a prerequisite for this tool.

We’re all suffering in some way or another. We all feel worthless at times. We’re all somewhat lost. Reminding yourself of your past victories should be easy, but it isn’t.

Yet if someone’s willing to throw us an alley-oop, we’ll be eager to perform a slam dunk. If someone’s willing to try to extract the stories where we emerged victoriously, we’ll be eager to tell them. And while doing that, we’ll inevitably feel good about ourselves.

Hence, the conversational alley-oop is a tool for kindness. It is a tool we desperately need as a society.

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And like anything else, the key to being good at performing these alley-oops is practice.

You have to put in the reps. So how about putting in the first rep today?

Go and ask your parents about how they overcame their struggles. Call up your friend and ask him how he lost all that weight. Ask your colleague how she bagged all those promotions.

And then, listen intently. Try not to share your own victories. Let them have this moment.

After all, you crafted this moment, especially for them. Let them dunk, and you, be a spectator to that dunk. I promise you’ll feel great too because it might be them who performed the dunk, but it was you who helped them score one for themselves and the team.

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Akshad Singi, M.D. has been published in Better Humans, Mind Cafe, and more.

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.