All day long, we talk and interact with people. For some of us, it comes naturally. For others, it’s something they have to work on or may otherwise avoid altogether. Being a great conversationalist can serve you well in life. It helps you forge healthy relationships, can help you become better at your job and networking, and can help you be understood as well as deepen your understanding of others.
A good conversation requires a delicate balance – between listening and speaking, asking questions and answering them, between staying on topic and adapting to new issues, and finally, between simplicity and detail. A conversation should include specificity, responses adequately related to the content, and questions.
Overall, a conversation should be a symbiotic flow between two people. It’s the building on what the other is saying, an exchange of dialogue that leaves both people feeling heard and understood. Conversations are like a math problem. There’s a topic or a question at the beginning, and a solution or finished product at the end. In between, there is the work that happened between the speakers.
What Makes A Good Conversation?
When asked about great conversations or conversationalists, almost anyone can name someone they know, or themselves, as a person who can go out and talk to anyone. And in return, they’re warmed to and received well. We all have that friend that can go anywhere alone and make friends with anyone in the room, or the whole room.
What makes them so great at talking to people? Rather than a few simple pointers, it’s many things. Some people are natural-talkers. They are extroverted enough to speak to whomever, whenever, with great confidence. Quiet, shy people may be great conversationalists when you sit down with them one on one, and they feel comfortable talking to you, but they might not be able to just walk into a room and talk to anyone.
A good conversation has the above qualities – the speakers are listening intently and actively, waiting for the right opportunity to speak and genuinely listening to the speaker for understanding. The right cues are picked up, and adaptation is used to keep the flow of the conversation going.
Not all great conversations come to an amicable end; there can be disagreements along the way, with the conversation still being “great.” But, generally speaking, an excellent discussion will leave the participants feeling as if they were able to get their point across clearly, they were able to “reach” their audience (fellow conversation participants). They feel understood and not as if they were talking to a wall, or the conversation was pointless. They were able to get something off their chest and get what they were looking for in return. It truly depends on the type of conversation and the people having it to determine if it was successful or not.
What Makes a Bad Conversation?
As you may have guessed, there are tons of ways to ruin a conversation or to be a “bad” conversationalist. Check out this quick review of bad habits while conversing. If you find that you’re guilty of one or more of these, you may want to brush up on your skills. Do a little self-reflection and be honest with yourself, as doing so can only help you!
Pulling Out All the Stops to Prove A Point
We’ve all been in the situation, the one where there’s one person in the conversation desperate to prove a point. It’s often a mundane point that doesn’t matter or isn’t the main topic of discussion. This usually stems from hyper-focusing on small details that aren’t relevant in the big picture.
For example, if someone is telling you a story about a day last week when X happened, and they think they were wearing a black T-shirt. And you believe you saw the person that day, and you just know they were wearing a blue shirt. It doesn’t matter; they were using the shirt color as a reference in time, an approximate, it doesn’t need to be exact. What’s essential and the real topic is what happened that day.
Being Completely Oblivious
Everyone knows a person who’s usually lovely, but wholly unaware and pushy. They’ll ask you six times in the same conversation to do something, as no matter how many times or ways you decline, they come up with a new reason why you should just do it. People don’t like to be put under pressure like that, try to be aware if you’re making me uncomfortable or having to deflect unwanted attention in conversations.
Only Being Concerned with Yourself
This person lies in wait for their chance to speak again, but rather than responding to content, they use whatever is being said to talk about themselves yet.
For example, you say to your friend, “I had the worst day. I got into a fender bender, and the other driver drove off!” and they reply, “I remember when I got into a fender bender, it was such a hassle. I was so annoyed.”
Then, you say, “It’s going to be such a pain getting my car into the shop to repair the damages. Now, I have to find time to meet with the insurance adjuster,” then your friend says, “My insurance company was great about the whole thing. They sent the adjuster to my work, so I only had to take a 10-minute break to meet with them. It was no trouble at all. But the shop I took it took forever to repair the damages; I was without my car for six days! Six days, can you imagine!?” – Enough said, right?
The repeater or even reporter in a conversation typically stems from a lack of conversational skills or lack of confidence. When someone doesn’t know what to say or doesn’t feel comfortable speaking freely, they may end up committing this faux paux.
You may hear this person agreeing or narrating, saying things like, “Oh, look how cute Arianna is! She’s smiling! Wow, she’s just so cute. Like, cute. Wow, she’s trying to walk now. Uh-oh, she’s going to fall over. Oops! She fell! Look how cute she is.” Instead of talking about anything, this person is just giving a play by play of what’s happening.
The Obnoxious Storyteller
Let’s be honest; we all love a great storyteller. But, if we know one personally, we’ve probably avoided conversation with them unless the time or place was right. Storytellers can be energetic and fun, but they can be overbearing.
We won’t give a formal example here because it’ll become long and drawn out, you know, like every conversation with your favorite storyteller does!
The One Word King (or Queen)
Have you ever felt like having a conversation with someone was like pulling teeth? Like you practically had to beat the conversation out of them? That’s what having a conversation with a one-word-answer person.
In this example, no matter how many questions you ask, no matter how much you try to keep the conversation alive, their answers are dry, one-worded, and conversation killing.
What Are the Key Differences?
The key differences among a good conversation and lousy conversation are necessarily the balance. Are both parties enjoying the conversation? Or does one feel like the other is committing any of the above conversation-killing mistakes?
When two people can go back and forth, share ideas, stay on topic, or move from topic to topic in a friendly way, both parties likely feel heard, and the conversation is feeling constructive.
Practicing awareness is the best way to solve conversation problems. Listen and watch for verbal and nonverbal cues that the person or group of people you’re talking with are enjoying the conversation or want it to go a different way.
How to Improve Your Conversation Skills
If you’ve come to a place in life where you’ve become aware of your conversation skills lacking in some way, or you’ve become interested in becoming great at it, you’ve come to the right place. There are tons of ways to practice your skills every day. Read on for some simple tips to practice your conversation skills daily.
Tips for Becoming a Great Conversationalist
Below you’ll find easy ways to implement awareness and practice talking to people in your daily life. Pick a few to focus on, and the rest are sure to follow.
Tip 1: Learn to Have a Conversation with Anyone
Some people have no problem talking to people we know. We get around our group of friends or favorite colleague, and you can’t get us to stop talking, no big deal. However, send us out alone, to a networking event or otherwise, and suddenly conversation becomes out of our reach. It’s common to feel nervous when approaching people you don’t know.
Walking up to a person or group of people you don’t know simply takes practice. The more you do it, the more you realize there’s not much to it. You don’t need to deliver some award-worthy performance to make a good impression.
Simply strive to be relevant, sincere, and genuinely interested in the conversation, and you’ll realize that most of the work is already done. With a few good follow up questions, you’ll be in with the group in no time.
Tip 2: Make the Conversation Interesting
Not long ago, I began paying attention to the conversation. Specifically, I wanted to understand what made conversations that lasted for hours so incredible, and what made a conversation going nowhere, fast. Is it the topic that makes or breaks an interview, or something else?
You might be surprised to learn that while, yes, some conversation topics are typically a buzz-kill, it’s not the topic that matters.
What truly makes a conversation carry on and on is a mutual interest in both the conversation and finding common ground. That doesn’t mean you have to agree with what the person is saying necessarily, but only that you both care about whatever it is you’re talking about.
Finding commonality with whoever you’re speaking with is the easiest way to keep a conversation alive and exciting. If you feel a lull in the discussion or like it’s dying, you can ask the other person something slightly personal, in the form of a follow-up question. Doing so can help keep it going or shift ideas and topics altogether.
Tip 3: Strive for Deep, Meaningful Conversations
We talk to people each day, plenty of times a day. We say hello to people on the way into work, speak to the cashier, ask our spouse how their day went, you get the picture. But, how often are you having conversations that spark your intellect or passion? Probably not often enough.
It may seem like you or other people are too busy to sit and talk for hours, but the reality is if you all have time to check emails after work hours, binge on Netflix, or endlessly scroll your news feed, you have time to have meaningful conversations too.
It’s all about finding the right people that you spend enough time with, asking great questions, and having a genuine interest in one another and the conversation.
Tip 4: It’s A Conversation, Not An Interrogation
1We’ve talked about asking questions several times in this guide. You should understand that it’s not about questioning other people, but rather about coaxing new ideas, viewpoints, and feelings from people.
A conversation can start feeling like an interrogation quickly if it’s not done right. That’s because people may be asking abrupt, yes or no, or hard questions. Instead, try asking leading questions, open-ended questions, and even suggestions.
You can read more about open-ended questions here. You can also learn a lot from the way counselors and therapists interact with clients. Take, for example, motivational interviewing. This is a style of therapy that employs techniques to help a person come to change on their own.
What you can learn from it is the same techniques professionals use to help their clients feel safe, comfortable talking about difficult topics, and allow them to see what they have going on from a different perspective. Although a conversation isn’t necessarily for inciting change in people, you can employ some of the same techniques to become great at talking with people rather than at people.
Tip 5: Learn to Overcome Introversion
Talking to people as an introvert can be challenging. Being introverted doesn’t necessarily mean that you lack confidence in talking to people or that you aren’t intelligent enough to speak to others, you could be the smartest, most confident guy in the room and still prefer to be alone.
But there are times when even introverts have to go out into the world and talk to people, for work or otherwise, so it’s a great skill to have. As an introvert, conversations with others may make you feel intimidated, or you may just not enjoy them.
An excellent way to overcome your introverted feelings so that you can have conversations when you need or want is to have a focus. Think about what you’re doing, who you’re talking, where you’re at, and why you’re having the conversation.
By giving your mind something to focus on, you can stop thinking about how you’d rather be at home, or when the conversation is going to end. It’s okay to need a break after socializing as an introvert, but with a little practice, you can become someone who’s able to enjoy talking with others at the moment, even if you need some downtime to recharge afterward.
Tip 6: Learn to Join Group Conversations
As you may have guessed, there is a right and a wrong way to enter a group conversation. If a group of people are talking and have a great thing going, it may be hard to find the right entrance into the conversation if there’s not a lull for you to take advantage of, right?
You can’t exactly wait for your turn, but you also don’t want to interrupt anyone. One way to jump in without being rude is to create a small moment that brings attention to yourself so that you have a chance to talk.
You can do this by making an attention-grabbing (but not rude) gesture. You might take a big deep breath that causes an audible noise while waving your hand. As eyes are drawn to you, you can now speak without it being an interruption; you’ve given notice that you’re about to speak.
Once you’re in, simply follow the rest of the examples for becoming an exciting part of the talk. Maintain eye contact with the person who’s speaking in the group, nod your head, and give responses accordingly.
Tip 7: Don’t let the Conversation Dwindle
There are naturals ups and downs when people are talking with one another. Perhaps the story ends, the issue at hand is solved, or no one has anything left to say about the topic. That’s fine if it’s time for the conversation to come to an end.
But, if you’re in the middle of dinner, that can leave things hanging awkwardly. To avoid letting a conversation die at an awkward time, you need to feed the fire. A straightforward way to keep a conversation from dying is to ask a question about a previously mentioned detail.
For example, you could say, “Earlier you were telling me about the time you went to New York on a work trip. Have you gotten to travel anywhere else?” Using simple details to change the topic or keep it alive, are easy enough to do. With practice, it’ll come naturally to you.
Tip 8: Talk Slowly
There’s never a reason to rush a good conversation. Typically, people who are great at talking, take their time with the topic. Speaking slowly and allows you the time to come up with what you’re going to say in a way that anyone who’s a part of the conversation can understand.
If you talk too fast, people may lose interest. They also might not hear all the details of what you’re saying or get what you’re saying mixed up. And, rather than being able to continue the conversation when it’s their turn to talk, they now have to ask for clarification or ask that you repeat yourself as they’ve gotten lost.
If you don’t give people the time they need to digest what you’re saying as you’re saying it, likely, they may just agree with you or let the discussion die off. So, whether you’re talking to new people or people you’ve always known, slow it down and let the conversation flow freely without rushing it.
Tip 9: Maintain Appropriate Eye Contact
Making appropriate eye contact is essential during talks and discussions with others. In many ways, it’s an additional way to connect. Eye contact varies from person to person, and it can vary widely from culture to culture.
Some people aren’t comfortable making or holding the gaze of others. However, if you want to become great at talking, you must master the art of eye contact. There are many ways that eye contact helps us, take a look at these examples.
- Eye contact can help you discern if someone is lying to you
- Eye contact cues you in on what people are thinking and feeling
- Eye contact helps you know if you have the attention of your audience
- You can use eye contact and body language to convey essential messages or read them from others
If you find that you’re always averting your gaze, try to make it a point to make eye contact and hold it, one additional time per conversation you have. Over time, you’ll get so used to it that you won’t realize you’re doing it anymore.
Tip 10: Offer Insight
Being great at talking to others means that you have to dig a little deeper. Of course, you can offer your knee-jerk opinion on something, but did you take the time to give it much thought? You can also comment on the news, what happened since the last time you saw the person you’re talking with, etc.
However, if you want to have interesting, meaningful discussions, you have to be willing to offer a little more. Offer a new perspective, or even come up with a question or suggestion that you and the other person can further discuss together.
When you offer exciting insight, you’re more likely to open the conversation up for others to do the same. And, as simple as that, you’ve forged the way for a chat to move past the local news and into more interesting, valuable topics.
Tip 11: Brush Up On Your Vocabulary
Have you ever met anyone who just made you feel like everything they said was smooth? Think about the people who deliver personal development or motivational speeches. They seem to have a way to win over the majority of an audience, right?
That’s because they choose their words wisely and carefully. It may seem like they’re smooth talkers, but the reality is that they’ve taken the time to consider the best words to convey the right feelings and messages.
The difference is the way it makes you feel. When someone else is talking, and you’re thinking, “Wow, that’s exactly how I feel,” but you’ve never been able to put the same feelings into words; they’ve chosen just the right words to incite emotion from you.
All you have to do to create the same feelings in others while you speak is to give yourself time to consider the best way to say things. This skill takes practice, so try it out the next you have a moment to talk with someone and get their feedback.
Remember that choosing the best words doesn’t necessarily mean using big or complicated words where they don’t fit. Let language come naturally, but build your vocabulary along the way so that the natural language you use isn’t dull.
Tip 13: Grow Your Confidence
If there’s one skill you should focus on the most in this guide, it’s growing your confidence and getting comfortable. Being comfortable talking to others allows you to have a calmness about you that lends itself well to great discussions.
When you’re not worried about what other people are thinking, you can better focus on the discussion and bringing valuable, insightful, and exciting ideas to the table — like many of the other tips on this list, becoming more confident takes time.
You can decide today that you’re going to focus on your confidence, though, and each time you practice, you’ll become more and more comfortable. It’s like a snowball effect of faith; just roll with it.
Becoming a great conversationalist takes time and dedication. It’s not something that happens overnight, despite what you may think about people who are great at talking. Even those people who had a natural ability have since spoken with so many people, that they’ve had tons of practice to better their skills and become smooth conversationalists.
If you have the opportunity to ask people for feedback, don’t be afraid to do so. Take constructive criticism in stride, and, in time, you’ll be able to hold smooth, meaningful discussions with the best of them.