10 Ways to Have Better Conversations
Tricks that Will Make You a Master Debater. Oh, and a More Enjoyable Person to Speak With.
In today’s Internet-driven world, communication has been made easier than ever before. We have access to a wide range of tools that help convey our thoughts and feelings, in real time, with a global audience. As a result, many of us experience difficulties in face-to-face communication, having had less opportunity to hone this aspect of our personal skill-set.
Here are 10 easy tips and tricks that will turn you into a master conversationalist, capable of breaking down interpersonal ‘walls’ and establishing new relationships with ease!
1. Listen to Understand, Not to Reply
Stephen Covey, author of the best-seller 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, said, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” This is an accurate observation of a character attribute that many of us possess, but that few are mindful of.
Instead of putting together a response or a follow-up question while the other person is making a point, we would be better served by giving our undivided attention to the speaker and formulating a response when the person is done. This way, we allow ourselves to fully understand the spoken and unspoken messages the speaker is trying to convey. The first step to becoming a better communicator is learning how to listen.
2. Experiences Are Never The Same
Do not equate your experience with theirs. If someone is telling you about having lost a family member, do not start talking about the time you lost a family member. Although you may feel that this exchange shows your empathy, it may in fact be perceived as a dismissal or trivialisation of the other person’s experience.
Let them have their moment to express themselves, and provide support through your words and actions instead.
3. Get Rid of Distractions
While multitasking is a welcome ability at work or school, it should not be practised during a conversation. Cultivate the habit of putting away your mobile phone and clearing your mind of distracting thoughts when you are in conversation with someone.
Strangely enough, many of us multitask and let our minds wander more when we speak with family members and friends who are closer to us, as we tend to take them for granted. Next time, be more mindful and focus on the conversation!
4. Be In The Moment
Once you have cleared your mind of distractions, focus on the conversation and be present! Even if we are not distracted by an external stimulant, many of us have the tendency to drift in and out of focus when engaging in conversation.
We may be guilty of concentrating on an offending speck on our partner’s shirt, or observing the tendency of the speaker to frequently insert fillers like, “ummm” and “like”. Block these sidetracks and steer your attention back on course, genuinely expressing interest and empathy. Your attentiveness will subconsciously register with the other party, making them think of you as an excellent conversation partner.
5. Be More Descriptive
Employ the use of superlatives when narrating an experience or sharing an opinion. This makes you a more captivating storyteller, as your listeners are likely to conjure up vivid mental imagery to accompany your account.
For example, instead of saying “Have a beer”, you can declare “Here’s your jug of liquid courage!”. Embellish your conversations with evocative phrases and enjoy seeing your audience on the edge of their seats!
6. Control Your Speed
In certain situations, we may rush through our words or stumble upon them as we attempt to string a sentence together. This tends to happen when circumstances or emotion get in the way, most notably nerves! Alternatively, many of us maintain a steady speed in our speech, resulting in a predictable vocal pattern. Predictability inadvertently results in the other party getting bored and “switching off” without them realising it.
Great conversationalists can change their speed on the fly, tailoring their delivery to maintain interest and draw attention to the important parts of their speech. The next time you’re speaking to a friend, try slowing down when you’re saying something important, or inserting a momentary pause when you want the other person to reflect.
7. Ask Open Ended Questions
An integral tool for maintaining an excellent conversation is the ability to ask open-ended questions. A cookie-cutter “How’s work?” will likely elicit the standard “It’s okay.”. Instead, remember something the person mentioned to you previously about his office experiences, and ask, “You mentioned that your team was getting a new lead. How are things coming along now?”.
If you do not have the luxury of a jump-off point for the conversation, try asking “Have they made you CEO yet?” or “So, given your working hours, how often do you see the sun nowadays?”. Playful questions like these suggest that you are keen to hear about the other person, while lending a humorous twist to what might otherwise be a serious topic.
8. Be Ready To Absorb
Beloved scientist and television personality Bill Nye is widely accredited with the phrase, “Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.” This is a prudent point of view to uphold when having a conversation with someone, especially if it is your first one. Every conversation should be entered with an open mind, and treated as an opportunity to learn.
A willingness to learn includes shedding your preconceived notions and ideas, while accepting the other person’s worldview and asking pertinent questions in response to his/her statements. This will demonstrate your genuine interest in the conversation, and will undoubtedly lead to a more fulfilling experience for both parties.
9. It’s Never About You
Unless you are asked, avoid dominating conversations with your personal experiences and bragging about your relative achievements. For example, if someone tells you about a recent promotion, it would be advisable to congratulate them wholeheartedly and demonstrate interest by asking them what lies in store for them. Refrain from attempting to build commonality by bringing up your own work environment, highlighting that perhaps you deserve a promotion as well.
Bringing attention to your own achievements when someone tells you about theirs will not result in them holding you in high regard; let them have their moment in the sun and express your genuine joy for them.
10. Body Language
The final, and perhaps most important, tool to add to your conversation arsenal is mastery of the messages you do not verbalise. Our body language markers give away a great deal of information about how we feel about and perceive the other party, despite our possible claims to the contrary.
Start by facing the other party square-on. Your shoulders, torso and toes should face your conversation partner, demonstrating that you are fully invested in the conversation. Maintain eye-contact, but allow it to break from time to time to make sure you are not inadvertently glaring at your partner and making them uncomfortable. The addition of hand gestures to illustrate and emphasise points makes you a more convincing, captivating speaker as well.
Think of it as your words providing raw data, and your nonverbal behaviour adding “flavour” to the data!
As an integral part of our daily lives, both professionally and personally, effective communication and its associated skills are valuable areas for improvement. Now that you are armed with these tips and tricks, go out there and orate your way to greater success!
Know a tip we should add to this list? Leave a comment and let us know!
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