Friday, October 16, 2015

The Secrets to Being a Great Conversationalist

Want to become known as someone who is great to talk to? Someone who is never at a loss for words? Want to be admired for your interpersonal skills? Here are the secrets to becoming known as an excellent conversationalist.

1. Listen. Most people a hungry, if not aching, to have someone to talk to, to listen to their problems, experiences, and opinions. If you play the role of listener, helping the other person or persons to do much of the talking, even venting, that will be much appreciated. The proverb says, "Listen to seven words for every word you speak." That's good advice not only to make the talker happy, but it provides you as listener with a context and details you can use to formulate your reply.

2. Ask questions. Asking a question of your conversational partner shows that you are interested in and curious about that person's life and ideas. Sometimes (often, for shy people) others don't know what to say next. If you ask a question, they have a topic to fill out. Be sure to ask a question that the  other person will likely find interesting and have something to say about. It's better to ask, "What have you found most valuable about your education?" than to ask, "Do you think string theory will resolve the issues in quantum mechanics?" Always be ready with a question, so that if the conversation drags or stops, you can resuscitate it.

3. Remember that conversations are not all about you. I once had a friend who, no matter what I or anyone else said, would connect the statement to herself. If someone said, "There was an accident on the freeway that made me late for class," she might say, "I saw an accident once where three cars were wrecked. I got really nervous." If you said, "Let's go watch paint dry," she would likely say, "My bedroom at home is painted pink." So, resist the temptation to turn the conversation on yourself.

4. Pause. When you talk, don't engage in a fire hose of words where there are no periods in your sentences. Nonstop talkers are an irritant and they are simply impolite. A good rule of thumb to follow is to pause after every two sentences or so (unless you are in the middle of a detailed explanation) to allow someone else to inject a comment or reply. When a nonstop talker rambles on and on and changes the subject six times, the listeners forget the insightful comments they wanted to make about one of the topics now long gone, and that frustrates them, taking the enjoyment out of the experience. Besides, listening to a nonstop talker is very tiring because the listeners' brains grow weary of trying to process all those words.

5. Remember that when you are face to face, gestures, body language, and facial expressions are significant sources of communication.

6. Tone of voice is very important, and should convey interest, respect, and warmth.

7. It's best not to disagree over minor details--how to pronounce tomato is the classic example. If you must disagree, try doing it in the form of a question. For example, instead of saying, "That's wrong. It was 1989, not 1986," ask, "Wasn't it 1989 rather than 1986?" or even, "I thought is was 1989. Is that right?"

8. Avoid sarcasm. Sarcasm with those close to you who can appreciate it is okay, but in a general social setting, sarcasm is "crude, rude, and unrefined" as my junior high school teacher once said. It's insulting, disrespectful, and can be a conversation stopper.

Try these ideas out, whether you are naturally shy or naturally talkative.

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