How To Be a Better Conversationalist
Updated September 30, 2022
Knowing how to start and maintain a conversation is a valuable skill for making connections, fostering relationships and being effective at work. Some people seem to be born conversationalists, but for the rest of us, these skills need to be learned and perfected. In this article, we offer six proven tips on how to be a better conversationalist.
What makes a good conversationalist?
While some people seem like they're naturally charming, being a good conversationalist can be learned if you know what you're aiming for. Here are five universal actions of a good conversationalist:
When the person you're speaking to is granting you their full attention, you know it. They're concentrating on you, seeking to engage rather than just hearing your words.
Listening intently to someone who is speaking naturally sparks curiosity, leading to clarifying questions. When someone is listening to what you're saying, they ask questions because they want to know more.
They ask questions that open the conversation even more fully, allowing you to expand on your ideas and share your opinions. When you answer their questions, they maintain eye contact with you, further proving their investment in your story.
Sharing something about yourself invites the other person to open up and respond in turn. Revealing a personal detail is a great conversation-starter and is an equally great way to develop relationships with others.
A good conversationalist knows this and they're also aware of how much to share and when to stop. They know how to begin with an interesting tidbit, such as a favorite book, tv show or sports team. These things aren't overly personal but are very effective at starting conversations that involve getting to know someone.
A good conversationalist knows that not all silences are awkward. A lull in the conversation doesn't mean it's fizzled out, necessarily, rather, it could indicate a good time to regroup and prepare for the next wave of discussion. Silence on the part of the listener is also much appreciated when the speaker is talking. A good conversationalist listens as much, if not more, than they talk.
If there is one overarching trait that makes a good conversationalist, it's courtesy. Showing good manners and respect for the other person is the only way to keep a meaningful conversation flowing. Traits of courteous conversation include refraining from interrupting the speaker, paying full attention to the speaker, avoiding talking excessively about one's self and refraining from looking at their phone.
Related: 11 Ways To Start a Conversation
Why is being a good conversationalist important?
Participating in conversation is something humans have a natural inclination for, as it's how we learn about one another, discuss ideas and fulfill the need for human interaction. Conversation itself is important to daily life but being a great conversationalist provides a much richer experience for you and the people you converse with and can lead to fulfilling relationships, understanding of each other and innovation.
Conversation stimulates your brain, encourages creativity and connects you with the world. When you become a good conversationalist, you can provide the same enriching experience for the people you speak with, stimulating their brain, encouraging their creativity and connecting with them. This stimulation can foster improved problem-solving, enhanced contentment and a deeper understanding of topics that you didn't know much about before.
Being a good conversationalist provides support to your colleagues and others close to you by allowing them an avenue to share ideas, vent frustrations, give or ask for advice and overall enjoy better emotional health. Conversation is the avenue to idea generation and success, both individually and as a team.
How to become a better conversationalist
Follow the tips below to begin improving your conversational skills:
Start with small talk.
Find common ground.
Ask open-ended questions.
Focus on your conversation partner.
Show your appreciation.
1. Start with small talk
Conversational skills are acquired first through simple, surface-level conversation. Small talk is a great way to practice engaging on more profound levels. For example, an offhand comment about the weather to a stranger could spark deeper interaction and lifelong friendships.
2. Introduce yourself
When that offhand comment about the weather begins to grow into a full-on conversation, introduce yourself. You may consider having a standard introduction that involves sharing a small tidbit of information about yourself to further the conversation, or you may just offer your hand and simply give them your name. Either way, you've taken the next step to a potentially great conversation.
3. Find common ground
If you find yourself in the same place as someone else, it's usually safe to assume that you have something in common, even if the only commonality is that you're both in the same place at the same time. To get a conversation running, ask them what brought them to this place. For example, if you meet someone at the same charity event you're attending, it can be fruitful to find out what other charities you might have in common.
4. Ask open-ended questions
If the person seems interested in talking to you but is giving only yes or no answers, try asking open-ended questions to get them to open up a bit more. Consider keeping the five Ws in mind when asking follow-up questions, such as "What is that like?" or "How did you do that?" to help them think deeper about the experience they're telling you about. Showing your genuine interest in them is likely to incentivize their active participation in the conversation.
5. Focus on your conversation partner
One of the surest ways to convey disinterest in a conversation is to pick up your phone and start scrolling or texting. Furthermore, by splitting your attention, you lose focus on the conversation and the experience becomes much less enriching to you and the person you're talking to. To get and give the fullest experience possible, avoid multitasking and focus fully on your conversation partner. Actively listen, don't interrupt and ask insightful questions.
6. Show your appreciation
When your conversation comes to an end, convey to the person that you're appreciative of their conversation. Mention a point they spoke about to further show your interest, such as "Thanks for telling me the name of your mechanic. I'll have him take a look at my brakes." This small gesture goes a long way in making someone feel appreciated and sets the stage for another conversation in the future. Exchange business cards or mobile numbers and follow up with them a few days later.
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