Conversation Skills

As a naturally shy and socially clumsy young person, I had to teach myself to converse with others. Why was it so important? Because I realized that way we talk to others says a great deal about us and makes all the difference between them seeking out our company or not.

Here’s a few thing I learned that have served me well.

It’s not difficult to grasp the overriding principle: Do unto others as they would have you do unto them.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? The fact is, skilled communicators immediately put people at ease whatever the situation. And they know that one of the secrets is to encourage others talk about their favourite subject – themselves – and share insights and experiences that interest them.

Conversation comes naturally to some, especially those who had good role models when they were young. But even if you didn’t have this benefit and consider yourself shy, you can learn the basic techniques and practise them until they feel natural. It starts with attitude:

  • Do you like people?
  • Do you get irritated if the conversation doesn’t go your way?
  • Do you regard ‘small talk’ as a waste of time?
  • Do you regard strangers as friends you haven’t yet met?

Get these right, then you can develop your own style.

Good Conversation

Consider the people with whom you like to spend your time. What is it that draws you to them? What qualities and behaviours do they exhibit? How many of these qualities do you have?

  • The essence of good conversation is simple:
  • Attentive listening is foundation of good conversational skills. The more you pay attention, the more you understand and the better you respond.
  • Have something good to say! Make a point of remembering interesting facts and amusing stories. Keep yourself well informed and take a genuine interest in others so you draw on a rich source of experiences and knowledge.
  • Learn to express yourself well so you make your conversation interesting. Use descriptive language; extend and develop your vocabulary. You can always borrow other people’s: if someone else said it better than you could, why not quote them?
  • Appeal to your listeners emotions. Words without emotion have a hollow ring to them. Remember, the ‘head’ never hears until the ‘heart’ has listened. Logic alone rarely makes friends nor wins people over.

Initiating a conversation

The first few moments of any interaction set the tone. They may stay in another person’s memory a very long time, and it can take a long time to remedy a poor first impression.

To make a good first impression:

  • If you know you’re going to meet new people, find out about them and their interests in advance.
  • Good manners count. Be polite and show that you value other people.
  • Act confidently. Nervousness makes others feel uncomfortable. Smile and ignore the collywobbles in your stomach.
  • Non-verbals are important. To appear confident even if you’re not:
    • Keep your hands still and away from your face
    • Keep your head up to avoid looking submissive, but not too high – looking down your nose appears arrogant
    • Avoid jerky movements and unnecessary gesticulations
    • Avoid tilting or moving the head around a too much (unless you want to appear cute or flirtatious!)
    • Make eye contact with everyone in the group.
  • Pay compliments, but don’t be ‘cheesy’..
  • Before you come on too strongly with your own opinions, stop, listen, and ‘sense’ the people and the atmosphere. Then you’re more likely to create a good impression. No-one likes a know it all!

Getting to know you

When introducing yourself, concentrate on showing the other person you’re interested in them. Give them a warm, open smile and a little eye contact; this conveys goodwill.  Lean forward, but don’t get too close. Offer your hand – this is a gesture understood and welcomed everywhere.

Giving your name projects confidence. If you don’t know their name, ask and remember it. Their name is important to them!

Avoid controversial subjects until you know them better. If you are genuinely interested in people, you will always be able to find something to talk about.

Give them a ‘verbal handle’ to grab hold of, a ‘hook’ that gets them involved. Ask open-ended questions to get them talking and follow-up their comments to keep the momentum going. Be sensitive, though; you don’t want to make it an interrogation. For example:

  • Tell me more about…?
  • How do you feel about…?
  • How do you mean?
  • What do you think of…?
  • In what way?

Appeal to their need for approval

The need for approval is a powerful motivator. Appreciation and gratitude are always well received, providing they are genuine. Don’t be afraid comment on things you appreciate about the other person:

  • ‘I like the way you ….’
  • ‘Is it true you recently ….? (mention one of their achievements). How fascinating!’
  • ‘I love your accent. Where are you from?’
  • ‘I hear you’re successful at… What’s your secret?’
  • ‘I’ve always been interested in…. and I’ve heard it’s an interest of yours. Tell me more.’

*****

When I first practised these techniques I must admit it felt false, but that was only because they were new to me and change always feels uncomfortable at first. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? It really is. Good conversational skills are the basis of popularity, so make everyone you meet glad they met you and your life will be transformed!

©David Lawrence Preston, 5.6.2016

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