Conversational Skills: Conversation Openers
by Gene Griessman, Ph.D.
Opening lines matter in any conversation. If you start weakly, you may not get a chance for a second line.
Golfers say it’s not how you drive but how you arrive that counts. You can make up for a bad drive with a good next shot. But in dating, if you drive badly, you may not get a next shot.
One of the best opening lines I ever heard is in Woody Allen’s fine film “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.” (Men, take note. If you want to see a master conversationalist at work, get this movie.)
Setting: Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem), a Spanish painter, approaches two adorable American women–Vicki (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson)—who are sitting together at a table in Barcelona having a late-night drink.
Juan Antonio stops at their table, pauses, looks intently at Christina, then slowly, admiringly, deliberately says: “What color are your eyes?”
With that surprising opening line– “What color are your eyes?”–Christina is instantly won over.
What Christina says in reply almost does not matter. Her eyes say everything. Christina obviously hears his question as a combination of compliment and invitation to engage in further conversation.
Talk about a pick-up line!
Juan Antonio’s question leaves the way open for him to ask further questions plus an opportunity to tell more about himself, that he is an artist and notices such things.
How can you use Juan Antonio’s question?
One way is to use it verbatim. “What color are your eyes?” Women love compliments about their eyes.
Or you could use a variation of the question: “Why are your eyes so bright?” Or “Why do your eyes look so happy today?” (I once asked this question and got a wonderful reply: “Because I am with you.”)
You might ask, “Where did you get that amazing necklace or ring or bracelet or scarf?” Those questions are not as effective in a dating situation as a question about the eyes, but you get the point. You have asked an open-ended question that comes across as a compliment.
Variations of this question can be used for social or even business conversation openers.
You don’t want to ask about the other person’s eyes in a strictly business setting because it could come across as flirty. But you might ask a question about a scarf, purse, or piece of jewelry; or if it’s a man, about his tie or watch or a piece of memorabilia on his desk.
But do take care. It must be clear from the way you ask the question that it is a sincere compliment.
Much ado about nothing? A simple question? Not really.
Your opener may be all you ever get to say. If you make an unwise choice, conversation over.