Winning Conversation

As a shy young man I had to teach myself to converse with other people, and it is these experiences that enable me to help others today.

Good conversation is a great confidence builder. It’s vital in building relationships and mutual understanding. It’s how we get to know each other. Talk to anyone for ten minutes, even a complete stranger, and you already have a pretty good idea of that person’s world – whether it is happy or sad, filled with health or illness, peace, anxiety and so on. It’s the way they gain an impression of your world too!

The basis of good conversation is rapport. Establishing rapport is finding things you have in common and making the person comfortable with you.

Here’s ten rapport builders:

Ten things that people like in conversations

  1. To be uplifted

Few of us enjoy talking to someone who is negative, so if you can’t find something good to say, say nothing.

Some people try to make themselves appear superior by putting others down. It rarely works because other people usually want very little to do with them.  Moreover, they’re not really talking about the other person, but revealing what’s inside them.

Avoid sarcasm. William Shakespeare described it as ‘the lowest form of wit’ and ‘the last resort of a defeated mind.’ Although it can be funny, it is often misunderstood and can be cruel. Children, in particular, often fail to pick up the subtleties of tone and body language,

Uplifting conversation is attractive, but with one exception: if a person is obviously going through a hard time, you may lose rapport by being too positive so tone it down.

  1. Agreement

We all like someone who agrees with us, so look for something on which you can agree and let people know when you agree with them.

Don’t tell them when you disagree with them unless it is absolutely necessary (you’ll find it rarely is) and take care over how you phrase it. ‘What would you say to someone who said…..’ is a useful form of words.

There are times, of course, when you strongly disagree and have to decide how far to go to make your point, and whether it is important enough to risk jeopardising the relationship.

If another person is angry with you, try to take the heat out of the situation. Stay calm, talk slowly and lower your voice.  If this doesn’t work, raise your voice a little (until it almost as loud as theirs) then gradually quieten it. (This is a technique called ‘pacing and leading’). Eventually they’ll realise they’re the only one shouting and their anger will burn itself out.

  1. Descriptive language

Most people are primarily visual, so paint word pictures. Everyone loves an anecdote and a story told in an interesting way. Use words and phrases which stimulate the imagination and appeal to the emotions.

  1. Simple words

Use simple, familiar words – people hate pretentiousness and pomposity. You quickly lose other people’s attention if they can’t understand what you are saying.

  1. Self-disclosure

Sharing feelings is the essence of real communication. Nobody enjoys talking to people who reveal nothing about themselves. You don’t have to go into intimate detail, of course, and you want the other person to respect your privacy, just as you respect theirs. But how can you expect them to open up to you if you’re not willing to open up to them?

       6. I don’t know

Most people dislike a know-all. If they think you’re a person who has to be right all the time, you’ll scare them off. It is often better to say you don’t know, even if you think you do. (If the other person knows, he’ll be sure to tell you.)

You’ve probably used this tactic many times with small children. When you sense that a child asks you a question because he wants to impress you with the right answer, you let him – don’t you? Why not do the same with adults? The result is the same.

It takes a solid sense of self-worth to admit your mistakes, especially if you’ve hurt the other person’s feelings, but others usually admire you for it.

       7. Lighten up

A light touch builds bridges. You can always spot a person who takes himself too seriously – he spends a lot of time on his own!

8. Integrity

Integrity cannot be stressed highly enough. People with integrity are more popular and more effective as leaders. Their relationships tend to be more long lasting.

Be sincere. Always keep your word. Don’t make empty promises and never let people down. Avoid gossiping. People dislike gossips. At most, they tolerate them; sometimes they are amused by them, but they never respect them.

Anyone who will gossip to you will also gossip about you. Refuse to listen, change the subject and, if all else fails, walk away. And never tell a story you would have to interrupt from embarrassment if somebody else walked into the room.

  1. Own your feelings and opinions

When you express an opinion, it is yours. Own it. Use the first person when expressing your feelings and opinions – ‘I feel…,’ ‘In my opinion…,’ ‘I think…,’ and so on. When we use the pronoun ‘I’, it is like a statement of self-assertion, strength and integrity.

A woman who had been taken in by a con man told me, ‘You feel so useless. It makes you feel as if you want to run away and never come back.’ She was expressing how she felt, but she wasn’t owning it. What she meant was, ‘I did a stupid thing. I feel so useless. I want to run away and never come back.’

  1. Stop talking before your audience stops listening

If you don’t want to be remembered as a bit of a bore, be alert to the other’s signals and stop talking before your audience stops listening. When it is clear they have heard enough, politely bring the conversation to a close.

The basics of good conversation apply equally in business and in domestic and social situations. These techniques work if you practise them, and if you’re sincere. Take an interest in others. Accept them as they are. Be patient. Bring out – the best in them. Then you’ll be a good communicator – and a popular person!

©David Lawrence Preston, 15.6.2016

Facebook and Twitter

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter @David_L_Preston

Conf book cover

How To Books, 2010

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

Facebook and Twitter

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter @David_L_Preston

Life Coach book cover

How To Books 2004