With all the advice on holding better conversations and navigating challenging topics, even small talk, it amazes me how many people are still terrible at balancing a conversation without making everything about themselves.
There’s nothing like a good conversation.
When talking with other people, you can often get inspired while opening your mind to new ideas and opportunities. In addition, communicating with others is how we connect with others and broaden our area of expertise. While there are many benefits of being a good conversationalist, not everyone knows the critical ingredients for making a great conversationalist.
“Silence is one of the great arts of conversation.” — Marcus Tullius Cicero.
It’s essential to include these ingredients in every conversation because there is nothing worse than shallow, one-sided conversations that lack intellectual substance and reek of narcissism and self-obsession.
Critical Ingredients for a Good Conversation
Have you ever stopped in the middle of a conversation and wondered, “Am I talking too much about myself? Should I change the topic?” You’re not the only one who has felt this way. Having conversations with other people can be a challenge at times. This is why mastering your conversational skills is so important. Here are eight ways to improve your conversation skills.
- Ask more questions. People don’t ask enough questions about the other person they are talking WITH. Remember, it’s not about talking TO someone, but rather speaking with someone. A conversation is supposed to be a two-way street. Please don’t make it all about you. Once you say something about yourself, ask them something about themselves. Ask them about their work, their hobbies, their family, etc. Try to be respectful and never ask about money or number related (size of clothes, bank account, how much they spent on their home, etc.) Also, avoid asking about goals because that is highly personal and none of your business. Here are some sample questions if you need help.
- Have you listened to any good podcasts lately?
- What’s the last book you read?
- Do you have any upcoming events that you’re looking forward to?
- Are you taking a vacation this summer? (If so) Where to?
- What do you do at your job?
- Are you working on any exciting projects right now?
- What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
- Have you tried any good restaurants lately?
- What advice would you give your younger self?
- Do you think social media is healthy for teens?
- What is a typical week like for you?
- Do you have any new wellness practices in your self-care routine?
- Who has inspired your life the most?
2. Don’t interrupt. Interrupting is most people’s number one pet peeve. It is extremely rude, lowbrow, and disinterest in the other person, but it’s also an excellent way for people not ever to want to engage with you. Unfortunately, interrupting happens way too often. To prevent this from happening, practice active listening. Make eye contact. If you are speaking on the phone with the person, let the person finish their point, so you don’t disrupt their train of thought.
3. Don’t try to change the subject too much. While it’s good not to overanalyze one particular topic, it’s also helpful not to jump from topic to topic too quickly. That tends to make things very anxious and awkward.
4. Make comments about what the person is saying. It’s good to engage with what the other person is saying, and you can do this by making kind and respectful comments to affirm you’re paying attention to what they are saying.
5. Keep up with exciting topics in the news or other areas that interest you. Staying up-to-date with worldly events, cultural news, and knowing tidbits of factoids can help stimulate exciting conversations that are not self-centered or about other people.
6. Keep your opinions in check. Be mindful of projecting your opinion onto other people. It’s always good to remember that opinions are not facts and to be respectful of other people’s beliefs.
7. Don’t badmouth others or gossip. Stay away from gossip. This type of talk is pure negativity and is never a good look. However, if they bring up some gossip, change the subject, and don’t engage in any way unless you have something nice to say, then move on to a different topic.
8. Try to be a good listener and not just wait for your turn to talk. Allow for a second or two to pass before you open your mouth and start talking. Then, be sure they are finished saying whatever they want to say. Of course, if they will not stop talking and are unaware you’re bored to death, it’s ok to say, “excuse me,” and walk away. Or do whatever you can to shut the conversation down politely and matter-of-factly. We all know how painful it is having our ear be the doormat to someone’s non-stop verbal diarrhea.
Being a good conversationalist makes people like you and want to be around you more often, which we all want!
So, if you’re going to be a better conversationalist, start by being a good listener. The way you listen says a lot about your interlocutor and will often help them feel comfortable enough to open up to you more.
In that context, it’s essential to realize that you don’t always have to use the most words — sometimes, listening is what is needed. And when the time for a response does come up, don’t try to steer the conversation back onto your subject quickly. Instead, take the time to listen intently here as well — you may learn something or gain some perspective in the process.