Sure, Megs and I differ in several ways. We are, however, also quite a bit alike and this isn’t more apparent than in our love of stories. Particularly, we revel in the unsung stories of those around us – think This American Life or Snap Judgement but often with less of a directly defined point. Those stories. And one thing Meg and I have in common is our insatiable desire to pull those tales out of people, whether it is merely a short yarn of everyday occurrence gone slightly awry or an epic tale of bravery, parkour-trained mermaids and mask-wearing quilters scheming and dreaming on the American homefront.
The only way to hear these stories though, is to ask. And again, we’ll come to a fork in Megs and myself. My conversation starters tend to be a lot like lobbing lobsters at a cork-board. I throw out words and eventually one will probably stick, but really, the turns of phrase and lighthearted inferences I’m tossing about make absolutely zero sense. Here! There! Everywhere! Pajamas! Jamaica! Fear of noodles randomly appearing in my bathtub! I adhere to the “just keep talking” methodology, which certainly has its time and place to shine, but mostly gives people their surreal moment of the day (and can fall absolutely flat on its face).
Megan, however, has a far more reasonable and admittedly completely non-creepy way of engaging in conversation with the likes of anyone we come across. “How’s your day going?” works magic on anyone with whom you can’t immediately connect or see a relevant way in (ie: you’re at the movie theater trying to select a movie and an older gent walks by on his way out of the theater. Clearly, you just ask him what he was watching and if it was any good. Relevant connection made. Story gathered: that of walking the Camino). Time and time again I’ve watched her unlock people I wouldn’t think could be opened – and more often than not, she’s rewarded with a tale for her efforts.
Since meeting, road-tripping and being inspired by Megs, I’ve enacted this technique. At first, it felt inauthentic, and like I was simply saying a line from a script. But quickly I saw how powerful that phrase can be. It allows for silence, for a beat while the answer-giver gathers their response. It does not throw anyone off, put them off, or give you an opportunity to stick your own foot in your mouth (which my technique does nicely).
Both methods have their place on the road, and both can be yours. I think the key is to simply want to listen to what a stranger has to say.