Someone once said “communication is key” - and they were right.
Conversation is the base for any relationship - friends, romance, work, you name it. Which means quality conversation goes along way when it comes to building quality relationships.
But conversation can truly feel like an art form. An art form that becomes increasingly more difficult the more people you know, the more cultural and background differences you encounter, and the more points of view and opinions you cross paths with. But when we say “difficult”, we don’t mean “impossible”! Like any art, practice makes perfect when it comes to conversation. Here are 7 tips to help you become a conversation artist and get more out of your conversations with others.
1. Pay attention
This one might seem like a given but how many times have you had a conversation with someone and at the same time checked your phone, wondered what you’re going to cook for dinner, or even replayed the work you’ve done during that day in your head? It’s a high-speed world: our attention spam is shorter and shorter, nowadays, and there’s so many distractions - noisy surroundings, technology, your own responsibilities and thoughts - it can prove hard not to zone out or find yourself wondering about something entirely different from the conversation you’re having.
If you find yourself having trouble with distractions, try addressing them as best as you can. If it’s loud, ask the person you’re talking to to move somewhere else or close the window, if possible. If you’re cold, ask for a moment to put on a coat, turn on the AC or go indoors. Put your phone on silent, with no vibration.
The only way to have an engaging conversation is to, well… fully engage.
There’s no need to learn how to look interested during a conversation if you actually are interested. Be focused and be truly part of that conversation.
2. Get out of your head
This might feel similar to the first point but, many times, even if you’re paying attention to the conversation, you get caught up in your own thoughts about it and stop listening. That means that someone can be talking to you about this great new coffee shop they’ve been working from and, then, you remember that barista you met recently and now you’re focused on telling that story and you’re just waiting for your chance to cut in.
The key to better listening is self awareness. It’s not repeating backwords or asking more questions. During conversation, thoughts and stories will jump into your mind - let them come but know how to let them go.
Notice when your mind starts wondering and address it: recognize that non-related thought and let it go, bring your focus back to the person talking to you. Here’s a nice trick: a lot of people find that fidgeting helps them stay focused in conversation. Doodle on a piece of paper, fiddle with a pen or hair tie, wiggle your toes inside your shoes - or whatever works for you!
3. Stay open
If you’re going into a conversation just to answer back and get your point across without listening to the other person… don’t go into that conversation. Conversations are not meant to be an opportunity for you to preach or lecture, they’re meant to be an exchange of ideas.
There’s always something new to learn from other people, even if you don’t have that much in common.
Actually, challenging your beliefs, listening, and thinking about new ideas can give you a different perspective of the world and even help you learn or realize new things about yourself - it might even make you try new things! This doesn’t mean you can’t have strong beliefs or be passionate about some subjects, it just means you don’t close the door to other forms of thinking because you don’t share them. You can disagree with someone and still consider their perspective and try to be empathetic towards them. If you show openness, you’ll likely be met with that same openness, and experience a higher quality conversation.
4. Don’t make it about you
Did you know talking about yourself actually activates the same areas of the brain as good food or taking drugs? Talking about yourself feels good. The thing is, conversation is not meant to be a competition. If someone is talking about having a tiring week, don’t talk about being exhausted. If someone is happily talking about their first car, don’t brag about your nice Mercedes.
Simply put: if someone is talking about themselves, don’t focus on how you can make the subject about you instead.
You’re meant to be listening and engaging with what the other person wants to share - their experiences are their own, unique, and individual, same as yours. When you don’t make the conversation about yourself, you instantly become a better listener, a better conversationalist and you have an easier time creating connecting. When you truly listen, it’s more likely you’ll be able to understand what’s on the other person’s mind, their feelings, and perspective. In consequence, it’s easier to empathize and connect.
5. Be mindful
You’ve probably been told “think before you speak” more than once when you were a kid. And that still very much applies to adult life. Don’t just talk for the sake of talking: weigh your words and their potential impact before you get them out of your mouth. Do they take the other person’s perspective and feelings into consideration? Do they truly represent what you want to say? Will they add to you, the other person, or the conversation? Words are a very powerful thing. They can be helpful, hurtful, encouraging, comforting… and can have a very strong impact, positive or negative, on the person they’re directed to.
Even when your intentions are harmless, badly chosen words can hurt someone, make you sound rude or ignorant, hurt your credibility or harm your relationships with someone.
And the thing is, once words exit your mouth, there’s no getting them back in. A helpful concept you can implement to be more mindful in conversations (and make sure you don’t talk yourself into unpleasant situations) is THINK: making sure your words are True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary, and/or Kind.
6. Try not to repeat yourself
If your conversation partner paid attention to points 1 and 2, then repetition is definitely not needed. Sometimes we get so caught up in getting our point across and making others understand it, that we just repeat the same thing over and over - it makes the conversation feel boring and it can even feel condescending.
Try to recognize when you’re repeating yourself and why. Is it for emphasis? Are you just particularly excited about this one subject? Is it to remind the person you’re talking to of something or are you using repetition as a “space-filler”? If you’ve exhausted your topics, there are other ways to keep the conversation going: changing the subject, letting the other person talk, or, simply, recognizing the conversation has come to an end and excusing yourself.
7. Be curious
Let the kid in you come out! Kids are constantly asking questions because they’re curious, they want to know more, they want to understand everything that’s new. Get past the small talk and try to get more out of the conversation. Questions are what makes simple interactions develop into conversation - without them, it’ll be really hard for you to deepen any connection. Don’t just answer back or ask “yes or no” questions. Ask more, bigger, deeper questions - use “how”, “why”, “what”.
Make sure you’re asking questions you really want to know the answer to and not just using them as a “conversation technique”, the person you’re talking to will be able to pick up on if you’re genuinely interested or not.
By asking thoughtful questions, and truly listening to the answers, you not only get more out of the conversation, you also open the door to getting to know the other person better and finding commonalities - making the whole thing flow that much better.
At the end of the day, the art of conversationis as much about talking as it is about listening - actually, it’s probably more about listening than about talking. Every conversation is an opportunity to learn more about others, about the world, and yourself. So just stick to the basics: listen and be interested.