Conversation is one unique trait of being a human, and it is an important skill to have. It is the way we get to know others and go on to forge a relationship with them. Being better at conversation can come in handy during networking events, when meeting new people, at business lunches, during sales meetings, for getting to know your coworkers, or having a more meaningful discussion with a friend. You can use these tips to make almost any type of conversation go more smoothly, from a performance review to a phone call with your uncle.
Consider who you will be interacting with and what their interests are. If it is someone you know well, you have many experiences with them to draw from. What do you usually talk about? What are their current worries? What goals are they working on? If you don’t know who you will be talking to ahead of time, you can arm yourself with general interest topics such as current events, careers, or sports. Usually you’ll be able to find a commonality and you can build from there. Do some reading or research beforehand and prepare a few open-ended questions. The good thing about planning ahead is that you can quickly shift to a new topic when there is a lull in the conversation, and you can talk about more meaningful things than the weather.
One common tip I have heard often for getting others to think you are a good person to talk to is to “ask a lot of questions” or “make the other person talk about themselves.” The reason why this works is because it appears we are interested and that, in turn, makes the person you are speaking to feel more comfortable around you. This isn’t always enough (or appropriate) and there are other ways to make someone feel comfortable. There are various ways to make different people feel comfortable, but simply making an effort to care about their level of comfort is a good first step.
This one seems obvious. But it’s not. A good conversation cannot happen without both people listening. When you interrupt or talk over someone, you are not listening. When you don’t answer a question that was asked, you aren’t listening. And when you switch topics on the whims of your attention span, you aren’t listening. When you are talking with someone, but you are more focused on what you have to say, it is not really a conversation and it kills any chance of meaningful discussion. Fortunately, listening is a skill that can be developed at any age.
How do you react when someone disagrees with you or expresses an opinion that is one-hundred-and-eighty degrees from your fundamental core values? The way you react – your tone, your body language, and your actual words – will dictate how the other person reacts. Within a few seconds, your actions will serve to build trust or destroy it, command respect or lose it, and make or break the rest of the conversation. Anticipate that the discussion might take an unfavorable turn, and consider how you want to react.
One way to find what works is to examine what doesn’t work. There are patterns in your behavior, as well as people’s behavior in general, that can provide clues. What were your actions before the conversation took an unfriendly turn? What was the topic of discussion? Was there a personal attack or a change in tone of voice? What could have been done differently for a more positive outcome?
These five guidelines should take you through the basics of almost any conversation you’ll need to have at work or in life. If all else fails, though, remembering names and some good common sense can go a long way.