How to Be a Good Conversationalist

Posted by Donald Latumahina 11 Comments

Note: This is a guest post from Geoff Peart, M.Ed. of My Social Upgrade

Good conversationalistDo you possess all the traits of a good communicator? Even if you do not, that doesn’t mean you can’t aspire to. Are there areas you know you could work on? Could you be better at telling stories? Are you slow to reveal information about yourself? Are you hesitant to offer opinions?

Studying great communicators reveals a lot of commonalities. Conversations are driven by two main forces – you need to do something, or you want to share information. Shy people tend to view conversation as a means to accomplish something and thereby keep it at a more serious / literal level. Good conversationalists enjoy the act of conversing itself – of sharing information, of small talk and deep talk, of telling funny stories, of learning about each other. Good conversationalists, first and foremost, can quickly express their opinions, interests, hobbies, likes/dislikes, favorite things, and memorable stories. If you can’t do that, you may have work to do.

Be Playful

This is the most common trait of likeable conversationalists – they sometimes play with the conversation. They do not take everything literally. Let’s say that you’re at a restaurant with a friend. You get up to use the restroom, and your friend asks you, “Where are you going?”

What would you say? The literal response is always, “to the restroom.”

But the playful response could be said with a smile, “it’s a secret…” or a sarcastic “I’m leaving, I’m sick of your attitude” or “you’re so demanding” or “who wants to know?” or “I’m gonna go find someone more interesting to talk to.” You get the idea. Play more – don’t take conversation so literally.

One way to play more is by injecting hypothetical situations and scenarios into your conversation. For example, “If she does ____, that would be hilarious.”

Let’s look at a very normal response: “It’s a good thing he didn’t…”

Now let’s add a hypothetical situation to it, “It’s a good thing he didn’t… because who knows, he could have been fired!” or “…he could have been arrested!” or “…he could have been captured by pirates!” You get the idea.

Here’s one more example: A friend visits your house and sits on your couch. Before you know it, your cat, Felix, jumps up and starts rubbing against your friend’s head. You may say, “Felix is very friendly…” But you could make your phrase much more interesting by adding, “…he’ll be making out with you next time!”

Be Modest and Positive

Good conversationalists are always humble and have a positive outlook.

They may qualify phrases with modest setups like, “I don’t know a lot, but I do know that she…”

When they respond to someone, they look for the positive parts. Rather than saying, “That sucks…” they say, “Well at least you didn’t have to ____ .”

Share Interesting Information

Good conversationalists bring new information to the table. And not necessarily theories on nuclear physics – but information that is fun and relevant to the audience. They choose information that their audience would probably enjoy.

If they introduce new knowledge, they do not come off as arrogant. For example, they may say, “…did you hear about the new ____ that just came out? I’m pretty sure it will change ____…”

Make references to pop culture, “Jake totally reminds me of ____ from that ____ show.”

They are quick to offer fun and light hearted opinions on trivial subjects, “If I had to eat the peppermint fudge deluxe ice cream every day, I’d be a happy man.” By keeping it light and fun, everyone can enjoy it. They are careful not to bring up heavy subject matter like religion or politics.

Reveal tidbits of interesting information about yourself and your likes/dislikes. “My favorite lunch spot is definitely ____…” They disclose information in small chunks instead of dominating the conversation about their own interests.

Likeable conversationalists are also terrific at bringing up shared past experiences and stories. For example, “Whatever happened to ____? Is she still teaching ___?” or “That reminds me of the time that Bill did…”

Be Interested in Them

As the great Dale Carnegie once said, the best way to be likeable is to be interested in the other person. Ask good questions – go beyond, “what do you like to do?” Ask follow up questions, ask questions about specific details they bring up, like, “So tell me about how you found the…?”

Initiate conversation and bring up topics that they are interested in. Seek out commonalities. For example, “This coffee is wonderful, don’t you think?” and “I love ___ too! That’s so funny…”

And when they do share information, make sure you pay attention and listen. Reflect, paraphrase, and prove that you were paying attention. For example, “Yeah…I can only imagine how horrible that would feel…”

Don’t Forget Your Non-Verbal Communication

Psychologists have consistently discovered that people are the most drawn to those who have energy in their voice and mannerisms. It’s important not to forget that how you express yourself is often just as important as what you say. Here are a few tips to better non-verbal communication:

Vary your energy and inflection. Stay away from a flat, monotone voice. When you speak, vary the energy you put into each word or phrase. Try to emphasize the important words. Vary your volume; speak slightly louder for important phrases.

Control your speed. Great conversationalists can change their speed at will. Is it important? Then try saying it more slowly.

Speak in chunks. Great conversationalists speak in chunks. They pause between phrases and don’t quickly string phrases together. This prevents mumbling and misunderstandings and helps keep your words clear and lucid. It also helps you the speaker focus more on each phrase.

Use gestures. Gestures help paint pictures and give your audience something else to look at to keep them interested. Study a talk show host for some good ideas – they constantly gesture when they’re delivering a monologue.

Remember, try to find what works best for your personality!

Geoff Peart, M.Ed., is the author of the blog, mysocialupgrade.com. He is constantly searching for the secrets of good conversation and welcomes any feedback.

Photo by ^riza^


Categories: Relationship

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  • http://ConfidentSpace.com Karen Caffrey

    I especially agree with Showing Interest in Others during conversation. When I was younger, I used to just agree with the person I was having a conversation with, if I was not sure about what they were talking about.

    Later, I realized that people really like being asked for clarification on things they are saying if I was unclear on what they meant. When I asked for more information, it was seen as genuine interest in what they had to say – which it was.

    To more enjoyable conversations!

    Karen

  • http://www.balancedworklife.com/blog Bryce Christiansen

    One of the greatest conversationalists I worked with had an act for improv. Any time we’d go to a new home or visit someone, he would take a piece of art or picture and then make up some ridiculous story about it. It immediately broke the ice and allowed people to relax a bit.

  • http://www.aplaceinthepattern.com ariana | a place in the pattern

    Hi Geoff,

    I think I sometimes focus too much on what I’m going to say rather than just let my natural love of talking flow through which leads me to being nervous and not talking at all.

    Thanks for these tips.

  • Ron Kawatsky

    I agree, having a genuine interest in what someone is saying is key. Being engaged, asking probing questions, nodding your head and most importantly eye contact. Give the person you’re talking with, unshakeable attention. Make them feel like they are the only one in the room. They’ll love you for it with so many other people distracted these days, tied to their phones, ipads, whatever. When you give someone your attention, you’re giving them your time – your most important asset.

  • http://www.davidhorsager.com Reid Velo

    I work with David Horsager who is the author of “The Trust Edge” and he speaks on the value in connecting with people in order to build trust. Connecting with people is incredibly valuable in building trust, but it’s rare that we stop in everyday life to think about how we can improve our communication skills by creating new habits. These are great tips for doing that!

  • http://www.conversationunlocked.com Geoff Peart

    Thanks for all the great comments everyone! For more articles like this, please subscribe to my blog (shameless self-promotion, I know ;-).

  • Sharmeen

    Hi Donald
    thank you for these great tips. I however; pay attention to listening to people; rather than hoarding a conversation. I find hoarders disrespectful and self serving

  • Calvin

    I find that, when being playful with conversation, some people are not sure how to react, so I also try to find some common ground and suss out what their sense of humour is. I also find that people who talk too much are aware of it to some degree – reminding them of it is an awkward conversation but they usually appreciate it. Does anyone else have tips for converting obsessive talkers?

  • Pete

    i hate my life. i cant talk to anyone if it my life depended on it. it so bad that i actually started to mumble when i talk to ppl ive known for over ten years

  • Pete

    seriously, i cant figure it out. i used to have no problem,. now i dont talk at all and ppl take offense to it and perceive me as an asshole or something. which i’m not. idk i feel as though im not worthy from my past mistakes and that i dont fit in. also, i feel if i say somethin that it’ll be stupid or irrelvant, and seeing and feeling the vibe given off by the person im “talking” with would just lower my self esteem. i know i sound like weak person who just complains, but this problem literally takes over my life and i cant take it anymore. SO, I THINK ITS TIME I JUMP OUT THIS SECOND STORY WINDOW 5 FEET AWAY AND JUST END MY MISERY. THANK YOU ALL FOR THE TIPS, BUT IM JUST GONNA MAKE IT EASY ON MYSELF AND PEERS…SO GOODBYE

  • caro

    I met this guy at work that i really like and everyday when I go in he says hi how am i doing and then we both turn our heads to get on with work but i want to kno how to talk to him more because im not very well at talking more

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