In our travels we meet many people. We participate in many conversations with a wide range of people from different backgrounds and experiences. It is an absolute pleasure to spend time with people who are great at holding a conversation. On the other hand it is particularly draining and off putting to find those who are not so great at it!
Here are some key attributes we have found that good conversationalists have.
How do you rate?
- They ask open questions – asking an open question can generate a great response. Try to ask open ended questions when in a conversation, especially initially to get the conversation going. These questions start with who, what, when, where, why and/or how. These types of questions engage people – they help to ensure that people give you more in their responses which then makes it easier to tack off what they are saying and make connections.
- They use people’s names – in any conversation I feel so much more connected to the person if they occasionally use my name when answering questions and chatting with me. It indicates to me that they are interested in me, giving the conversation that personal touch.
- Make connections – people who are good at conversations ask questions to make connections and find common ground with people. Finding connections helps to make people feel more relaxed and increases the chances of people having something to offer to the conversation – no uncomfortable silences. Some typical topics that help to create connections are where you grew up, your hobbies and interests or trying to find people you both know.
- It’s not all about them – a good conversationalist resists the temptation to keep talking about themselves or bringing your story back to them so they can start talking when they need to be listening. A good conversationalist will often share some of themselves/their story and then try to engage you by asking you some questions. They might do this by sharing their thoughts about xyz, and then asking, “What has been your experience with xyz?”
- They listen and hear you – when a good conversationalist is talking with you they focus on you. They look and smile at you and show positive body language. Their eyes aren’t wandering behind you or focused on something like their phone. You also know they are listening and taking in what you are saying because they refer back to it when they are speaking and build on something you have said when they share their stories with you.
- Voice disagreement with respect – when stating a differing opinion a good conversationalist remembers to acknowledge your common ground before differing. They don’t steamroll people into trying to get them to agree with their point of view. They know that people see the world differently and take the time to understand their different point of view. It doesn’t mean they have to agree with it – they can still offer an alternative vie which in turn helps to create a more interesting conversation.
- They read the signs – there is nothing worse than being somewhere socially and you get stuck with the person who keeps talking about something and you feel stuck! They aren’t reading the signs that you would like to move on and talk about something else or to someone else. They are so focussed on having a platform to share their story they don’t realise they are boring you and/or others. Good conversationalists read body language and look for signals that they are still engaging others. If they notice things are not quite right, they change their behaviour accordingly.
- They have fun – people with a sense of humour and the ability to look at the lighter side of life are fun to be around. They don’t have to continue to talk about the one topic such as their work. Instead they look for opportunities to create some fun and have a laugh with others.
You can’t change others, but you can change what you are doing to channel things potentially in a different direction, which has the potential to make the conversation more interesting and enjoyable.
So next time you are having a conversation with someone, see what you notice. Try some of these ‘good conversationalist’ techniques and see if that makes a difference to your interactions.