How To Start A Conversation With Anyone About Anything

There was a time in my life when my children were small and I was recently divorced, that I needed to work part time. I had few office skills, not even typing, so I was pretty depressed at the thought of finding something I could do and get paid for. Then I met Renee, a woman who owned a market research business. Renee focused on conducting specialized one-to-one interviews, often by appointment, about a wide variety of topics concerning both products and opinions.
Photo: Getty

Photo: Getty

Renee and I hit it off immediately and she put me right to work. The best thing about the job was that you didn’t need any training or special knowledge. All you had to do was ask pre-written questions and record the answers. Sometimes I questioned specific people that she had lined up, while at other times I had to approach total strangers or find my own interviewees. It was quite challenging yet offered me unforeseen revelations about human nature. Each assignment was a surprise.

My very first survey was quizzing women of all ages about their birth control preferences! I had to find a certain number of women who were married, a number who were unattached and quotas in different age ranges. What a challenge to cut my teeth on! At first I was embarrassed to even approach a strange woman to discuss such an intimate area of her life, but after a few attempts my stage fright disappeared.

What surprised me the most was how willing my informants were to discuss this very private topic with a stranger. As time went on I talked with many people of all ages and all economic groups. I never knew from job to job what the topic would be.

I remember going to informants’ homes to have them taste alcohol and tell me their preferences as well as having interviews that sometimes lasted over an hour discussing attitudes and fears about life issues. Some people opened up and shared very intimate information about themselves, their relationships and life in general. It was quite an education in human nature.

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