Communication is essential to any human relationship, yet its effects are rarely felt more keenly – even sharply – than while walking the knife edge of a first date. Here the conversation can pendulum swing between “wow, this is fun.” To “wow, this is awkward,” within a couple of panicky sentences.
The good news is, dating is rarely about saying the right thing. There are far more important aspects to communication that can make the first few encounters, that all important first date, or even the very first time you chat to that person you like, go well.
Let’s hold fire a second and check on something incredibly important. What do you want?
Take a glance back at the last five significant relationships you had. And be honest with yourself – what worked? And what didn’t work? Even the most awful match is all good learning. Gather your findings and see if it helps you sketch out an idea of what you’re looking for in someone new – it’s a pretty good strategy, and as Alex Belos explains, looking for the right person with reference to previous partners is even mathematically sound.
Hopefully you’ll sketch out a number of qualities, of varying importance. Try to have a few good emotional requirements (you want kids, or to get married) and pragmatic points (someone with a solid job, or looking to travel). If you’re dying to travel the world, then you can pass over those who want to stay a homebody. Sometimes we pass over these long term considerations – caught up in the thrill of what’s happening now - but if we’re after a relationship that could last, it’s worth thinking about core values right off the bat.
The dating app Zoosk analysed 3 million profiles and discovered that the word ‘honest’ was the most frequently used word when people described the person they were looking for. It’s very hard to be honest if you don’t know yourself. But once you’ve got that in hand, you can proceed with authenticity and maybe even a bit more confidence than you had last time.
Finding the person
Once you know who you’re looking for, you still have to find them. It’s fair to say though, that you’ve got a much better chance if you throw yourself into parties or other social events. There is also the online world – but maybe that’s for a future blog post.
The most meaningful conversations happen face-to-face, and although the first, “Hey there” can feel nerve wracking, you’ll never know the potential unless you utter those fateful words.
Don’t worry if you’re not great at talking to people. As we said from the top – this isn’t about saying the right things. Listening is a great way to go about things here – and far more appreciated by those you pay attention to. Having a few good questions in your pocket will help you out here – and ideally you will be able to end that line of questioning with, “Would you like to catch up sometime?”
The actual dating...
Once you move from first meeting to first date, the rules change slightly.
You definitely want some good (open-ended) questions up your sleeve, but you’re also going to want a bit of back-and-forth. There’s room for teasing and for telling an anecdotal story or two from your past week. Storytelling is a perfect way to invite people into your world, as it feels way more personal than saying facts about yourself.
For your questions, it’s okay to have some small talk questions – something in their reply can become a springboard for more interesting conversation – but you can shake things up with a funny question (if you feel comfortable with that) and even a couple of more meaningful questions. What inspires them? Where would they love to be in five or ten years? Most people love to be asked about the more meaningful side of life.
Listening for something more
Of course, you can’t script the entire evening’s conversation beforehand. Some of the best moments should come about unexpectedly and - the point cannot be stressed enough – because you listened well.
Listening well is partly about being present in the moment and partly about keeping an ear out for something more significant. Their eyes may light up when they answer a particular question, or they might say a throwaway phrase, but with a little more gravity than you’d expect. Whether they realise it or not, they’re revealing more than they’re saying, offering a key to discover a side to them that is hidden a little beneath the surface. If you want to, you can pick up on those moments – “You seem to really come alive when you talk about ‘x’?” “It sounds like there’s a story there. What happened?” – and they might trust you with something that really matters to them.
Turning at the conversational crossroads
Just as a road offers opportunities to turn aside from the standard route, conversation will often present you with two choices: the straight path or the intriguing detour. Usually the second is the way to go. After all – unless things are going really badly – you’re not trying to find the fastest route to the end of the conversation.
If they say, “I go to the theatre a lot.” You can ask, “What have you seen recently?” And they might give you a list, which is fine but doesn’t make for great date conversation. Or you could ask, “What kind of thing do you love to see?” or “What do you love about theatre?” or “When did you first start going? What sparked your love of it?”
While superficial questions are always an option, there’s often an opportunity to follow a far more intimate line of conversation. So keep an eye out for these conversational crossroads.
But what do I do about my nerves?
We get that, even when you have good intentions, nerves can ruin the best laid plans, turning a normal person into a babbling mess – filling every gap in the conversation so there’s not a single moment of awkward silence. But nerves don’t have to lead the conversation. Here's Emma with her quick tips on avoiding first date nerves...
Building a lasting relationship
If, here’s hoping, the date goes well, and becomes a second date, then a third, then an entire series of fortunate events, you’ll still need communication on your side.
Any good relationship is built on communication and trust. On showing your appreciation for one another and deepening the connection you’ve found.
And finally, happy Valentine's Day and if you're still on the lookout... good luck with the search.
For more advice on relationships, check out Emma’s insights into how communication techniques can crossover between the bedroom and the boardroom.
Why not sign up to our regular newsletter - which is packed full of tips that you can use the very same day, ideas that will resonate and we hope, delight. We pride ourselves on our simple, intuitive and accessible tools, that have a touch of creative magic.
More recent posts you might like:
- Live your brand values and use business as a force for good
- How to nail THAT interview and bag your dream job
- How to create connection anywhere, with anyone
- Q&A with Emma - What are you resolutions for 2020?
- Want to grow your confidence? Get out of your comfort zone.
- What can we learn from Greta Thunberg's communication style