One of the greatest compliments that a person can receive is when he or she leaves a conversation and one person says, “you know, it was really great talking to him or her.” It is also an extremely rare occasion anymore. Why you may ask? Simply, we most often communicate and far less often we converse. The difference between the two might seem like splitting hairs; however, the goodwill created in a conversation is not shared when one communicates. Here are the four keys to being a great conversationalist.
- Listen carefully. In many verbal exchanges, we listen with the intent of being able to respond. But in a conversational situation, we should listen to make the conversation more enjoyable. Listen to what the other person is saying. Watch and the speaker’s body language when he or she is talking about a subject. These clues will lead you to the topics that he or she really wants to discuss. To be considered a great conversationalist, you must talk about things that the other person finds interesting.
- Ask questions. Chances are, if you are engaging someone in conversation for the first time, he or she will know far more about his or her preferred topic than you. Even if that is not the case, ask questions instead of making statements. People like to be considered an expert in something; they like to spread their knowledge. It is a conversation, not an I-know-more-than-you contest.
- Verbal and nonverbal acknowledgements. It is not enough to let someone talk without showing any interest in what he or she is saying; your partner has to know that you are listening. This can be accomplished verbally and nonverbally. Part of the verbal acknowledgement is asking questions highlighted in #2. You should also make positive comments while your partner is talking, but not to the point that it will stop your partner’s speaking flow. Consider saying things like “yes” or” I agree,” but not during every sentence. Using nonverbal acknowledgements will also show that you are being attentive. Lean slightly toward the speaker. Though subtle, this conveys that you are paying close attention. Make eye contact as often as possible. Let the speaker know that he or she has your complete attention.
- No phones. I know that we think that we must be in constant contact with the world at all times, but if you are in a conversation, leave the phone in your pocket. Nothing says, “I am bored and ready to move on” like pulling out your phone and dashing off a text message in the middle of someone’s story. It is rude and self-absorbed. Truthfully, this action will probably be the only thing that the speaker remembers from the conversation.
If you can incorporate these suggestions into your next conversation, I assure you that the next conversation will be far better than your normal conversation. Like everything else, the more that you practice it, the better you will become at it and the easier it will become.