A long time ago, I used to have a crush on a woman that I saw every day on my bus ride home. I wanted to just go up and talk to her but I was always afraid to. Mostly because I had no idea what I was even supposed to talk to her about.
One day I decided to just go for it. I remember it going something like this:
“Hi”, I sputtered nervously.
“Hi,” she replied.
I felt my heart racing at a million miles per hour. Oh jeez, what do I say next?
“Umm…what time is it?” I muttered. Really, Steve? The time?! You couldn’t think of anything better?!?
“It’s 3:25” she replied.
“Oh, ok” I responded.
A few minutes passed. We arrived at her stop. She got up and walked off the bus. Well, crap. I slunk down into my seat, buried my face in my hands, let out a long sigh, and started hoping that nobody witnessed my dismal attempt at talking to her.
What are you supposed to talk about when you’re talking to someone you’re interested in?
The Conversational Totem Pole
When it comes to talking to women, there’s a framework that I like to use. It’s called the Conversational Totem Pole, and it goes like this:
At the top of the Totem Pole, you have topics that are more impersonal. And as you progress down the Totem Pole, the topics get more and more intimate. In order to build a meaningful connection with her, you want to start at the top of the Totem Pole and move your way down.
The popular expression “low man on the totem pole” usually refers to someone who is unimportant. In reality, the bottoms of totem poles are built by the most important people, bearing the load of all the other figures.
The very top of the Totem Pole is comprised of what I call “Arms-length rituals” and they involve tired old clichés you use when talking to someone that you don’t really care about, such as a cashier at Wal-Mart or that super talkative person that you got stuck in the elevator with. For example, if you’re buying goods at Wal-Mart the cashier might ask,
“How are you?”
You might reply, “Good. And you?”
And she’ll probably say, “Good.”
It’s a clockwork ritual you do to fill the silence, and the truth is that neither of you really care that much about how the other person is doing. These rituals are the most impersonal level of the Totem Pole and you generally want to avoid these when talking to women.
Beginning the Conversation
A lot of men obsess over trying to find the perfect line to begin the conversation, but it really does not matter as much as you might think. There’s no need to be too flashy or to try and impress her right off the bat with a clever line. The most important thing is that you talk to her in a way that’s authentic to your personality.
One way to begin talking to her is to say something contextual. For example, you could give her a genuine compliment. “I really like your hair/bag/bracelet/etc…” If she’s reading something, you can ask her what she’s reading.
Another great way to start the conversation is to just say “Hi, I’m Steve.” This has worked for me many times. Sometimes, simple and straightforward is all you need to win the day.
Building a connection
Contextual subject matter is good for beginning the conversation. To build a genuine connection, you’ll want to make the conversation more personal by moving down the Conversational Totem Pole to opinions, backstories, and feelings. “Backstories” involve any experiences you’ve had up until the present moment, such as stories from your childhood. “Feelings” include emotional subject matter, such as the things that make you feel happy or angry.
A great way to do this is to approach her with a mindset of curiosity. Try to find something that she would be interested in telling you about herself. As Dale Carnegie writes in How to Win Friends and Influence People, becoming a good conversationalist involves talking in terms of the other person’s interests and listening to them when they talk about themselves. Show that you’re interested in her opinions, her backstories, and her feelings—that you’re interested in who she is as a person.
The What/Why Technique
One of my favorite ways to do this is through what I call the “What/Why Technique”. It’s a simple, two-step technique that goes like this:
- Ask her about what she likes, and then…
- …ask her about why she likes it
In practice, it might look like this:
“What is your favorite movie/book/music/etc?”
And then follow up with
“What do you like about [her answer?]”
By asking her what she likes, you’re inviting her to share an opinion. And then by asking her why she likes it, you can often get her to share her backstories and feelings. Maybe her favorite music is Taylor Swift because her mom would play that on the car radio all the time when she was little and it grew on her.
(Wait, no. That’s my favorite music and a story from my childhood. Just don’t tell anyone that because it’s kind of embarrassing!)
Wrapping up the conversation
As you start to go out and talk to women, you’ll find that a lot of this is organic. Depending on when and where you talk to her, you may find yourself getting lost in a conversation with her for an hour. Julian Reisinger from Love Life Solved calls this an “instant date”, where a serendipitous meeting with a stranger immediately turns into a date.
On the other hand, sometimes you’re only able to talk to her for a few minutes before one of you has to take off. It happens. In that case, you can either try to get as far down the Totem Pole as you can or use the “playful” style of flirting as described by Dr. Jeffrey Hall.
As the conversation comes to a close, be sure to get her number if you enjoyed talking with her. Here’s a script I like to use. “Hey [her name], I really enjoyed talking to you and I wouldn’t mind seeing you again. Could I have your number?”
I like this script because it take the conversation all the way to the feelings level at the bottom of the Totem Pole. It’s sincere and displays a little bit of vulnerability, which shows that you’re interested in her romantically and not just looking for a hookup.
Finally, I have a whole bunch more scripts in The Quietly Romantic Guide to Talking to Women. Type in your email in the box below and I’ll send it your way!