The art of conversation takes practice, and is not as hard as you might
think. It will take some knowledge, practice, and patience, and you can learn to
relax and enjoy a great conversation. With these tips you will be well on your
way to having a good, meaningful and entertaining conversation with anyone!
Make a good first impression. Smile, ask questions that require more than a
yes/no answer, and really listen. Maintain eye contact and keep as friendly and
polite as possible.
Listen. This is the most important part of any conversation. You might think a
conversation is all about talking, but it will not go anywhere if the listener
is too busy thinking of something to say next. Pay attention to what is being
said. When you talk to the other person, injecting a thought or two, they will
often not realize that it was they who did most of the talking, and you get the
credit for being a good conversationalist – which of course, you are!
Find out what the other person is interested in. You can even do some research
in advance when you know you will have an opportunity to talk with a specific
person. Complimenting them is a great place to start. Everyone likes sincere
compliments, and that can be a great ice-breaker.
Ask questions. What do they like to do? What sort of things have they done in
their life? What is happening to them now? What did they do today or last
weekend? Identify things about them that you might be interested in hearing
about, and politely ask questions. Remember, there was a reason that you wanted
to talk to them, so obviously there was something about them that you found
Forget yourself. Dale Carnegie once said, “It’s much easier to become interested
in others than it is to convince them to be interested in you.” If you are too
busy thinking about yourself, what you look like, or what the other person might
be thinking, you will never be able to relax. Introduce yourself, shake hands,
then forget yourself and focus on them instead.
Practice active listening skills. Part of listening is letting the other person
know that you are listening. Make eye contact. Nod. Say “Yes,” “I see,” “That’s
interesting,” or something similar to give them clues that you are paying
attention and not thinking about something else – such as what you are going to
Ask clarifying questions. If the topic seems to be one they are interested in,
ask them to clarify what they think or feel about it. If they are talking about
an occupation or activity you do not understand, take the opportunity to learn
from them. Everyone loves having a chance to teach another willing and
interested person about their hobby or subject of expertise.
Paraphrase back what you have heard, using your own words. This seems like an
easy skill to learn, but takes some practice to master. Conversation happens in
turns, each person taking a turn to listen and a turn to speak or to respond. It
shows respect for the other person when you use your “speaking turn” to show you
have been listening and not just to say something new. They then have a chance
to correct your understanding, affirm it, or embellish on it.
Consider your response before disagreeing. If the point was not important,
ignore it rather than risk appearing argumentative. If you consider it important
then politely point out your difference of opinion. Do not disagree merely to
set yourself apart, but remember these points:
It is the differences in people–and their conversation–that make them
Agreeing with everything can kill a conversation just as easily as disagreeing
A person is interesting when they are different from you; a person is obnoxious
when they can not agree with anything you say, or if they use the point to make
themselves appear superior.
Try to omit the word “but” from your conversation when disagreeing as this word
often puts people on the defensive. Instead, try substituting the word “and”, it
has less of an antagonistic effect.
Consider playing devil’s advocate – which requires care. If your conversation
partner makes a point, you can keep the conversation going by bringing up the
opposite point of view (introduce it with something like “I agree, and…”). If
you overuse this technique, however, you could end up appearing disagreeable or
Do not panic over lulls. This is a point where you could easily inject your
thoughts into the discussion. If the topic seems to have run out, use the pause
to think for a moment and identify another conversation topic or question to ask
them. Did something they said remind you of something else you have heard,
something that happened to you, or bring up a question or topic in your mind?
Mention it and you’ll transition smoothly into further conversation!
Know when the conversation is over. Even the best conversations will eventually
run out of steam or be ended by an interruption. Shake hands with the other
person and be sure to tell them you enjoyed talking with them. Ending on a
positive note will leave a good impression and likely bring them back later for
Choose carefully when asking personal questions. You do not want to venture into
overly personal issues. Even if the other person might be willing to talk about
it, you may end up learning things that you really do not want to know. You
certainly do not want the other person to think afterward that you coerced them
into revealing personal information.
Be sincere! Compliments are great, but too much flattery is obvious and will
reveal you as being insincere.
Beware of topics that can be inflammatory – such as religion and politics – and
don’t venture into them unless you know the person has roughly the same
convictions as you, or the circumstances otherwise allow for pleasant
discussion. Again, it’s fine to disagree and can be nice to talk about
differences, but it can also be a quick step toward an argument.
Try not to argue! You do not have to agree with everything someone says, but you
do not have to tell them all about how you disagree. If you feel the need to
explain an opposing viewpoint, express it simply and without putting the other
person on the defensive. It is better to simply change the subject in a casual
conversation than to get involved in an argument.
Try not to nod or respond with “Yes” and “I see” so much. It might make the
person think you are bored and sometimes it may seem like you are rushing them
along. Never say anything hurtful or offensive to the other person, this may
project a bad feeling between you.
If it is a planned conversation, try listening to the news in case you run out
of thing to say, it is always a good solution.
Also try not to cut the person off mid-sentence. It seems disrespectful and it
makes it seem like what you have to say is more important than what the other
person has to say. Let the person finish their thoughts and then continue on
with thoughts of your own.