Last Updated Jun 2, 2011 1:54 PM EDT
Talking about yourself effectively means you need to master the art of self-disclosure. No, "self-disclosure" doesn't mean you need to become a braggart or dominate every conversation. Yes, of course, you need to be interested in others and ask questions, but don't fall into the unconstructive pattern of communication I utilized for decades.
I grew up reading the widely popular self-help book, How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. I discovered it in a library and devoured each page. The message resonated with me because the basic tenents are to ask people questions, be a good listener, and let them talk about themselves. As an introverted kid who was uncomfortable talking about myself, the advice to divert attention from me and simply to focus on the other person was comforting. Unfortunately, Dale Carnegie got it only half right...
Exclusively focusing on the other person is a great way to break the ice and to learn about others, but if you don't ever talk about yourself, your interests, and passions, you're not going to create a meaningful relationship. By definition, a good dialogue and conversation -- whether with someone you've never met or an acquaintance -- requires a back and forth approach.
One of the best ways to divulge a bit about yourself is to capitalize on the questions "How are you?" "How's it going?" and the like. Granted, these are typically throwaway questions, which are usually asked with little expectation or desire for a real answer, but if you want to stand out, they offer you a harmless venue for self-disclosure.
Here are a couple of ideas on how you can talk about yourself more easily and naturally:
Focus on a recent success.
What have you done -- professionally or personally -- in the last week or two that you're proud of? If you've landed a new client, hit your quarterly sales quota, submitted a column to your industry's trade journal, given an interview to the local paper, or just gave a speech, incorporate it into your answer.
If you don't have a "big" success, don't worry. Even mentioning something as trivial as reading a book is better than the typical "Good" or "I'm okay" response.
Discuss a goal.
This is a great way to make a connection and to toot your own horn. Mention a goal you are working hard to reach and/or have almost completed. A friend of mine recently completed a triathlon. Leading up to the event I'd ask her, "How are you?" and she would always have a great response such as "The triathlon is just two weeks away and I've been training hard," or "I'm so sore from my training."
Maybe you're not training for a triathlon, but you can easily infuse your goals into conversations. I've found it's a great way to get others talking about their goals, too.
If you love to talk about yourself, how great you are, and how many awards your kids have earned, please do yourself (and the rest of us!) a favor and skip this week's column because these tips may actually do you more harm than good.
Likewise, if you're a natural conversationalist, these tips are going to sound awfully contrived. But if you find you are always the one asking the questions, start sharing those things for which you are most proud and passionate. It's a great way to "keep friends and inspire people."
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