Habits for cultivating a rich conversation
Personal Growth by Thomas Oppong
Some people are just good at talking to anyone — they make it so easy to talk about almost anything.
To converse well is a skill we all need to learn for better engagement and rewarding experience in any conversation — being a good conversationalist makes a huge difference in so many areas of your life.
A great conversation is an important and rewarding part of social life.
Some conversations can be intimidating if you feel you don’t have the right social skills to keep the other person engaged. It’s not uncommon to worry about how others perceive you.
“Good conversations require a give and take, just like keeping a ball in the air during a game of catch,” says Anne Green, president and CEO of CooperKatz & Company.
The good news is, you can improve your conversation skills, feel more confident and engage in a meaningful small talk with anyone. If conversing with new people feels like a daunting task, some of these habits might help.
A great conversation is often more about listening than talking
Good conversationalists actively listen.
Many people take listening for granted as a conversation skill — listening is increasingly becoming a lost art. Many of us place an unusually high value on the opportunity to share their thoughts and feelings.
People communicate to connect. If you are interested in strengthening your communication skills, rather than the joy of monologuing, be more interested in others. Learn to genuinely pay attention to what others are saying.
In Dale Carnegie’s words, “be a good listener and encourage others to talk about themselves.”When people feel good as they talk to you, they’ll associate those good feelings with you. That’s a winning formula for making friends and influencing people.
It takes courage to be a good listener. Active listening won’t necessarily feel natural at first, and it will require a lot of practice before it becomes a conversation habit.
Develop your breadth of knowledge
To become a memorable conversationist, read wide — inform yourself on a variety of topics. Or better still become a life-long learner.
Lifelong learning is the “ongoing and self-motivated” pursuit of knowledge for either personal or professional reasons.
The most successful and charismatic people don’t stop learning. They read a lot — they continually expand their knowledge despite what they already know or have achieved.
The more you know, the more topics you can bring up in your conversations. Inform yourself on a variety of topics from world affairs to business and culture. Explore diverse subjects that interest you and have an open perspective on the world, life and people.
“Be bold in getting beyond pleasantries to introduce high interest topics likely to enliven a conversation,” says Suzanne Bates, author of All the Leader You Can Be, the Science of Achieving Extraordinary Executive Presence.
When you are well-read, you can introduce ideas and stories from other domains to make your conversations memorable, engaging and interesting.
Adapt your conversation
Peter Drucker, one of the most widely-known and influential thinkers on management once said:
“The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.”
In ordinary conversation, adjustments are easily overlooked. Great conversationalists possess a heightened sense of awareness.
They can “read the room” or adjust their topics depending on the cues they pick up from others. For engaging conversations, look out for different body postures, gestures, facial expressions, and eye movements and adapt accordingly.
Smiling, making eye contact, and leaning in towards the person you are talking to are a few things you can use to make a conversation memorable.
“Logic alone won’t tell you the whole story about anybody. You must surrender to other vital forms of information so that you can learn to read the important non-verbal intuitive cues that people give off,” argues Judith Orloff M.D of Psychology Today.
Be more efficient in knowing what isn’t being said.
To foster a positive atmosphere, discuss, don’t debate
You can use conversations to learn and have fun. Seek first to understand and connect.
If someone says something you don’t agree with, find out why they think that way instead of trying to convince them of your own ideas and philosophies.
“Gather all the information you can before jumping to conclusions about someone, or a situation. Often, misunderstandings occur between people when they do not seek to clarify and understand the others experience,” says Dr. Nikki Martinez, Psy.D., LCPC
It’s okay to say you don’t agree — aim to learn more about why they think that way. Also, try to remember that the point of many ordinary conversations is to get to know the other person better. Avoid judging others and always aim to respect different points of view.
“The irony of being a good conversationalist is that talking isn’t the most important piece; listening is what makes you memorable,” says Celeste Headlee, host of Georgia Public Broadcasting On Second Thought.
Becoming a good conversationist is a process — it takes time. It’s important to practice as much as possible. Work on being a better listener, developing your knowledge and fostering a positive atmosphere. As your confidence improves, you begin to feel more relaxed.
This article was first published in Potential growth.