Tips for becoming a better conversationalist
By Joel MacKenzie, Staff Writer
Do you recognize the power of everyday conversations? They are an easily overlooked necessity of life, and yet even the smallest ones can be enough to instantly connect people or destroy their opinions of each other. Especially in a modern society that reduces the amount of time we spend in face-to-face conversations, these skills aren’t used as often, and thus perhaps less known, but are still as necessary as ever to connect us. Conversing is a complicated subject: how to do it changes between cultures and even situations; it can’t be summed up in a few short points. But a few simple pieces of advice can help people’s skills immensely by at least allowing them to understand the finer elements of the structure of conversations, and at most, help them establish close relationships with ease.
[quote]The most useful piece of conversing advice that I’ve ever received is to always respond with a statement and end with a question.[/quote]
The most useful piece of conversing advice that I’ve ever received is to always respond with a statement and end with a question. This comes from the free podcast Manager Tools, from the episode “How to be Effective in Everyday Conversations.” The statement, which can be as simple as “Oh,” or as complex as a brief summary, acknowledges that you have understood what the other person said; your question encourages him or her to continue speaking. These simply encourage you to listen to others, but also clearly show them that you are doing so, which encourages the conversation to continue.
Listening goes hand in hand with this skill. Listening is simply focusing on what other people are saying while they are saying it. It can’t be done while focusing on replying, something that, while trying to consciously listen, I’ve noticed myself and others do. Listening leads to a relaxed environment, as the listeners drop their egos to respect the speakers, and the speakers feel more heard, and are encouraged to speak.
A skill that closely ties into this one, and is immensely important, is to not interrupt people while they are speaking. At all. Interrupting says nothing more than “My words are more important than listening to you.” It throws off the flow of the conversation, and breaks the harmony between its members. It’s (admittedly) tough to do if you’re used to cutting others off. But it shows a great deal of respect to those speaking that—in my experience—they often appreciate and reciprocate.
The last tip is more of an internal change rather than an act: depersonalizing the right conversations. Sometimes conversations need not, or should not, be very personal. Talking about ideas, rather than feelings, keeps the conversation light, and keeps anyone from feeling they have to share anything personal that makes them uncomfortable. In confrontational situations, depersonalizing keeps the focus on the problem, rather than any blame or insult that is not truly related to it.
Conversing is a very important skill, but not always easy. Improving it, like all skills, requires knowledge and diligence. With enough, you can make conversations as relaxed, comfortable, and fulfilling as possible.