When I meet a new person, I like to mention that I’m color blind in the first few minutes of conversation. This vulnerability—a disability, really—is a reliable conversation booster. People jump at the chance to skip smalltalk about the weather or traffic and to inquire instead whether that means I can’t see any colors at all. And how do I know when the traffic light is green?
Bringing up my color blindness gets conversations going because mentioning a vulnerability disarms the person you’re talking with. It signals that your goal isn’t to brag or impress and that you’re willing to chat about things that are not perfect. People find that refreshing.
Showing vulnerability works because it contrasts with what you normally hear from people. When you speak with your cousin for the first time in years, they might tell you about their new job and how much they love it. When you browse Facebook, you’ll probably see a parade of weddings, graduations, and babies. Many people only post about the highlights of their lives and not about their struggles.
Sometimes I go too far talking about my color blindness. When I go on about it, I can see in people’s eyes that they’re itching to walk away. The trick is to bring it up and stay on the subject just long enough to firmly establish the conversation. Then I need to change subjects quickly.
That’s because nobody I’ve just met wants to hear me talk about myself for a long time. They don’t want to hear me complain either. The goal isn’t to tell my conversation partner my life story, but to build some rapport. When you do this, you’ll be able to tell when the person you’re speaking with is engaged in the conversation. And when you notice that, start asking them questions. That’s your best bet to get a conversation going.
So next time you’re about to start some smalltalk, try mentioning one of your vulnerabilities instead. For instance, when you’re at a birthday party, you could mention that you’re pretty shy and you don’t know many people there. Often the person you’re talking with will understand and will help you feel more at ease or help you fit into the group. It might be uncomfortable at first to show your vulnerability, but try it.
And in case you were wondering, I do see colors—just not as many—and the green light is the one at the bottom.
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