Become An Excellent Conversationalist

People want to be heard. They want to feel important. They want to know that you’re interested in who they are, not just their looks, their position or their bank account. In this modern age, many of us are more used to talking with our thumbs than having a heart to heart in person. Don’t worry though, a discussion doesn’t need to be difficult! Let’s review some of the simple ways you can master the art of conversation.

Be A Good Sport

One of the best analogies for a good conversation is the idea of it as a game or sport. The key difference, of course, is that both sides win when you play it well! The CEO of Michael Hyatt & Company has this to say about conversations:

“If you want to increase your influence, you have to perfect the gentle art of conversational ping-pong.”

As he mentioned, a good conversationalist can expand their own influence, both in business or at home. This is an extremely valuable skill to develop for anyone seeking success. So what does this “game” look like?

Prepare A Catchy Intro

Take some time to develop a memorable introduction for yourself. You don’t want to sound like you’re reciting a script, but a well-worded start to a conversation will immediately engage your audience. For example, you could say your name and a fun fact about your profession. (Prepare an interesting anecdote or a little-known detail.)

Compare these 2 introductions and think about which would make you remember Cindy. Which introduction would make it easier for her to start a conversation?

  • “Hi, I’m Cindy and I work in tire manufacturing.” -or-
  • “Hi, I’m Cindy and I work in tire manufacturing. Did you know that we recycle about 233 million tires each year?”

Or, you could put them on their toes a bit and ask them to describe something about you or the venue. If they’re game, you can quickly get an idea about their opinions and learn something new in the process.

  • “Hi, I’m Sam! What do you think of my shirt?”
  • “Hey, I’m Sam! What do you think of this music?”

Start The Conversation

Someone has to break the ice. If you want to build a relationship or strike a deal, that someone should be you! Don’t wait for the other person to make a call or walk across the room. People love talking about themselves. All you need to do is get the ball rolling. You can do this using the simple “FORD” method. Strike up a conversation and make new friends using this easy acrostic.

  • Family – For many of us, family members are the closest people in our lives. We have deep feelings about them and they can impact our decisions. It might seem like “small talk” when you ask someone about their family, but you’re really asking them who they are as a person and how they treat their loved ones.
  • Occupation – This is the go-to for most people, as in “what do you do for a living?” However, you can keep this from becoming a one-note response by commenting on their answer. What do you admire about their occupation? What makes you curious about that topic, or who do you know in that sphere? Do they do something you know nothing about? Showing interest in what they’ve chosen to pursue as their life purpose can be a great way to connect. Maybe they’ll tell you of an award they just earned at work or a problem they recently solved.
  • Recreation – If you can get someone excited about what they love to do, chances are you’ll have an incredible conversation and probably make a new friend. Often, when you get someone talking about what they do recreationally, that’s a lead-in to start them talking about areas where they excel in life. If someone loves the gym, they may brag about a new personal record. If you’re having a conversation with someone who loves mountain biking or hiking, they may tell you about an awesome new trail they found or a race they just finished. Someone who loves knitting may be excited to tell you about a blanket they’re making for a new grandchild. Everyone loves to have fun, so ask them about what they enjoy.
  • Dreams – While the other topics listed are great at the beginning of a conversation, dreams dig a little deeper. Once you’ve established a good rapport, you can look for opportunities to find out what drives a person. I’ve often noticed if I can get someone talking about their dreams, I see their eyes light up and they radiate excitement as we discuss their vision for the future. People who have become extremely successful in life typically have a clearly defined vision of what they want from life and they share it often.

Remember that everyone’s favorite subject is themselves. Once your conversation is underway, all you have to do is keep the momentum going. Asking good questions and showing genuine interest is the most important part of becoming an excellent conversationalist.

Listen More Than You Speak

The easiest way to make your conversation partner comfortable? Listen. Take a breath and let them speak before you run headlong into your own thoughts. People love to talk about themselves, so a good conversationalist allows someone to enjoy their own thoughts out loud before barraging them with new ones.

“Silence is one of the great arts of conversation.” – Marcus Tullius Cicero

You can’t determine whether you’re on the same page until you hear their side, so let them explain themselves first. In a more pragmatic way, you can tailor your phrasing in response to the other side when you listen before you speak. They may know more (or less) than you first thought, or have a very different understanding of the topic at hand. Clear communication becomes much easier when you can see the other perspective.

You can remember this concept easily by referring back to the sports illustration. Are you being a “ball hog”? How long has it been since you passed the conversation back to the other side and gave them a chance to speak? Keep an eye on your own “shot clock” so you can avoid making your conversation partner feel ignored.

No One Likes A Know-It-All

One of the worst things you can do with a conversation partner is acting like you already know everything. The humility of admitting your own ignorance will go much further than pretending you have a handle on a subject. As a bonus, this gives you a chance to ask questions. Get the other person to fill you in on why they love their job or hobby.

Ask Follow-Up Questions

Whether you’re looking to draw out someone to hear their side or just need clarification on a point, don’t be afraid to ask. Avoid questions with direct responses (such as “yes/no”, specific facts, etc). Instead, ask open-ended inquiries. Begin with “why” or “how” and look for them to explain. Make sure your face and body language communicate that you are genuinely interested, and be careful not to make it sound like an interrogation!

Here’s an easy trick: take the last half of what they just said, and repeat it back to them with a question mark at the end. Just like this: “Oh, so you repeat it back to them with a question mark at the end?” See how that sounds like you’re asking for further information?

Look For Cues

If you’re in an involved discussion, it becomes easy to overlook the other person in favor of pushing your point. Be careful not to ignore their reactions and responses. You can often avoid serious conflict by slowing down and respecting their replies, both verbal and non-verbal. Are they nodding in agreement or shaking their head slowly? Do you see a smile or a frown? Stop and check the temperature of the conversation, clear up any disagreement or confusion, then move on to your next point. Don’t go around making enemies just because you weren’t paying attention!

Address Issues But Avoid Arguing

Dealing with negative topics is one of the hardest things to do in a conversation. Emotions get involved, people become defensive, and often what started as a civil discussion can spiral into a shouting match. Here are a few tips to stay productive in a heated conversation:

  • Realize that anger itself is not evil. Think about what makes you angry – you have a perfectly justified reason for your passion, right? Take a second to hear out the other side. Find out why they are frustrated before offering solutions. Often someone just needs to “vent” a bit before they can work through the options.
  • Vocalize your own anger only if absolutely necessary. Will the thing that’s making you angry still be an issue tomorrow or next week? If so, don’t shout at someone, but make sure your own motivations are clear. The other party needs to understand where you’re coming from so they can form their own responses.
  • Avoid passive-aggressive intimidation. Threatening your relationship, whether it’s personal or business, often rings hollow and only serves to aggravate the other party. If they do take it seriously, they may react in a way you never planned and completely ruin any hope of restoring your relationship.

Ask yourself what’s more important – your ego or the outcome? Don’t get so caught up in “winning” an argument that you lose sight of your end goal.

Finish On A High Note

Once the conversation has played out, or you have to move on to another one, wrap it up. Don’t leave someone hanging and just walk away, or make them feel like you’ve abandoned them in favor of someone more interesting. Let them know that you have to leave. Tell them that you appreciated the conversation. You can easily show that you were paying attention as well, simply sum up the major subjects you discussed. Then you can set up opportunities for future conversations (or not). If you do want to follow up with someone, let them know you’d like their contact information. At the end of the day, take those business cards, email addresses, phone numbers, etc. and put them into your calendar as meetings. That way, you can ensure a great start with all of your new friends!

Prepare For Play

Going along with the same analogy, you will want to practice and equip yourself to have successful conversations. Just like a team preparing for the big game, your planning and effort will make a difference as you engage in dialogue with others! Here are some ideas for perfecting your communication.

Develop A Diverse Circle

We learn from our friends, so make sure you are learning the right things! Spend time with successful people who have magnetic personalities. Successful people are often skilled at making others feel like the most important person in the room.

Find someone with the leadership skills you want to build and shadow them for a week. You’ll catch a lot of the unspoken communication skills that they use and see how they deal with different situations. Another benefit to a large and varied circle of friends is your exposure to all of their worlds. Pay attention to any insider lingo or industry trends. You never know when that exclusive knowledge will give you a conversational boost!

Read Books

Whether you study self-help manuals on conversing or novels with great dialogue, books can make a huge impact on your conversational skills. Try reading books from different categories to get a wider overview. If you’re heading into an interview, find the top recommended book about their industry or expertise. Your depth of knowledge on their work will immediately help you build trust and avoid confusion over misunderstood terms or techniques.

A large part of this effect is vocabulary. Reading lets you see words in action. You can glean information from context, see proper responses, and learn new words or phrases. Your expanded personal thesaurus can give you the edge in a job interview, or just make your conversation partner feel at ease. Knowing a more precise word for any given situation aids in clarity and helps you avoid frustration or confusion.

Write It Out

Whether you’re getting ready for an important job interview or a “serious sitdown” with an employee, it helps to organize your thoughts ahead of time. Although you don’t always know what the other party is bringing to the table, you can ensure that you cover any important topics. Bullet lists and outlines work best for this activity, so you can arrange talking points in an appropriate order. In this way, you will set up the flow of the conversation. Don’t feel shy about bringing a notepad with you either! Let them know that you have relevant issues you want to touch on. You can also use it to take notes on their responses or extra thoughts that you have throughout the discussion.

Conversation is at the heart of every relationship. It has formed the cornerstone of society, from rowdy marketplaces to comfortable coffee shops. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow had this to say about conversations:

“A single conversation across the table with a wise man is better than ten years mere study of books.”

Learning how to have engaging and rewarding conversations will take conscious time and effort. If you’re a good sport and you prepare beforehand, you can make sure that everyone you talk to remembers you as an excellent conversationalist!

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