Nothing is more awkward than lapses in the conversation, particularly in a one-on-one situation with a newly introduced person. Here are some suggestions on how to keep conversation flowing and feelings of trust and affinity growing.

Create a comfortable atmosphere. Most people open up when they feel at ease. Strive to quickly make others feel comfortable around you. Focus on the other person first, ask probing questions, smile a lot and be sincerely curious about them.

Take responsibility for the conversation. Most people are unsure and anxious when meeting another person. Give them some help by being pro-active and starting the conversation. Introduce yourself, shake hands and ask their name.

Use S.A.F.E. questions. Start a conversation using gentle probing questions that relate to both of you. The situation you’re in (networking event), any activities that are obvious (golf shirt), family (children, holidays) or current events (hockey).

Be curious about others. We all respond to someone who is naturally curious. Being sincerely curious about others will help them talk more openly about themselves, their situation and their lives.

Ask about others first. Asking about others before talking about ourselves requires discipline and is an expression of maturity. It demonstrates a respect for the other person that is immediately obvious and appreciated

Express a sincere interest. It is extremely important to demonstrate that we are actively interested and involved in the conversation. Active listening, eye contact and positive body language all contribute to help others know we care about their responses.

Keep the conversation focused. Try to stay on one topic, extending the conversation until all the information about that area has been discussed. In many cases you will quickly discover another point of discussion to move to.

Listen and watch their level of comfort or stress. People will normally become more comfortable as their level of stress diminishes. Getting them talking usually accelerates this process. Once they feel more comfortable, the conversation will become easier.

Make a perceptive statement. Most people will give you strong clues about their inner
thoughts, feelings and emotions, even during a short conversation. By making a comment on the other person’s feelings you can demonstrate genuine interest.