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

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How To Books, 2010

Creating Rapport

Rapport is an emotional bond or connection between two or more individuals. Creating rapport is the art of bridging the gap between people.

It’s often said that opposites attract. This may work for the poles of a magnet, but not for humans. We say ‘birds of a feather stick together, and it’s true. People different to you may stimulate and intrigue for a while, but in the longer term like attracts like.

Moreover, You don’t have to like them to be in rapport with them, although a mutual liking obviously it helps.

The essence of building rapport is therefore to focus on what you have in common!

This is not how some people behave. They’re quick to point out their differences, thinking this makes them appear more interesting. Not so:

  • Find shared interests
  • Take an interest in the other person.

Help them to feel they are talking to someone with whom they have plenty in common, but don’t pretend to know anything you don’t and steer clear of empty promises. There’s no point in pretending you love golf and offering to give them a game if you don’t know an ‘eagle’ from any other sort of ‘birdie’.

Matching and Mirroring

Watch any pair who are getting on well, and what do you see? They take on each other’s characteristics. If one leans forward and smiles, so does the other. If one talks in a quiet tone, the other does too.  One smiles, nods, shakes his head and, guess what? The other does too.

They’re not deliberately mimicking each other. It’s just that when individuals get on well with each other, they tend to subconsciously adopt similar non-verbals and speech patterns.  Gently emulating these is a sure-fire way to improve the quality of your communication.

  • Match their posture – e.g. if they lean forward, sit back, stand up, cross their legs, etc., do the same without making it look too obvious.
  • Mirror their facial expression – if they smile, frown or wrinkle their nose etc. – calmly do the same.
  • Mirror their gestures – e.g. folding arms, shaking the head, scratching the chin, flicking the hair back, etc.
  • Mirror their breathing – observe the other person’s breathing patterns and gently bring yours into line.
  • Voice – match their pace of speech, pitch and volume. If the other person speaks rapidly, speed up. If they speak slowly, slow down.

Match their words and phrases and borrow their expressions. Feed their ideas back in slightly different words. One way is to ask a question, listen to their answer and then restate their reply:

You: ‘What made you buy a camper van?’

They: ‘Mainly the independence. I love to travel, and I don’t have to worry about finding a place to stay. It wasn’t cheap, but I reckon it will save me money in the long term.’

You: ‘You must save a fortune in hotel bills.’

They: ‘Yes, that’s right.’ (Thinks: I can tell we’re going to get along fine.)

This must be done skillfully, or they’ll think you are mimicking them. Do it subtly and you quickly put them at ease as well as showing that you are listening.


These techniques also work in reverse. If you want to withdraw from a conversation, deliberately mismatch. Turn away, adjust your body language so that it is different to theirs, look at your watch or mobile phone. They soon get the message! People in senior positions who have finished addressing a subordinate often do this very effectively.

Rapport creates a climate of trust, deepens friendships and facilitates relationships on every level. It is a skill well worth practising.

©David Lawrence Preston, 6.6.2016

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