5 Ways To Have Great Conversations

Is conversation a lost art? Here's how to bring it back—from placing yourself in the right environment to listening the right way.

Have you ever wished that you had an ability to talk to strangers and have them instantly warm up to you?

Think about the people you know who seem to bring out the best in you whenever you talk to them: You feel comfortable talking to them and could go on talking forever. They could be old friends or someone you just met, but the conversation just seems to flow smoothly and naturally.

If you wish you had the natural ability to make conversation that the people you admire have, don’t despair. Having meaningful conversations is something that can be learned, and with focus and practice, we can all become better at it.

Here are five key things that will put us on the right track:

1. Get out of yourself and make it about the other person

Have you ever had someone talk endlessly about something that you didn't have the slightest interest in? It probably felt like they were having a conversation with themselves and you just happened to be there. These people seem to be oblivious to the idea that you may not share their interest.

The best conversations begin with showing an interest in the other person, their world, and what they might be interested in. Most people love to talk about themselves. Ask them an open-ended question about something that you notice about them. If you can give them a sincere compliment or give them positive feedback, you've made a great start. Great conversationalists have a sincere interest in others, notice things about them, and use these things to start and fuel their conversations.

2. Practice active listening

Most people are thinking about what they want to say next while someone else is speaking. Become aware of this during your conversations, and when you find your mind going to a response, stop and try to force yourself to listen. This is not easy, especially if you are highly extroverted. You can practice by spending time with your partner or a friend and repeating back to them what they just said. This exercise helps create awareness of the amount of time we actually spend active listening to others.

3. Move the conversation to a deeper level

Think of the people that you are willing to open up to and share things with. What is it about them that makes you so comfortable disclosing things that you wouldn't normally with others?

Likely they are good at making eye contact with you and making you feel like you are receiving their full and undivided attention. Pay attention to their expressions. Notice that they are with you not only in the tone of their words but in their expressions. Their faces light up when you are sharing something you are happy or excited about, and they take on a solemn, sad look when you are sharing bad news. You sense and feel that they are totally engrossed in what you are telling them.

If emulating what they are doing seems unnatural to you, practice and push yourself to do so. Notice that people will start to react differently to you.

4. Ask good questions

We can get others to share more by showing an interest and asking open-ended questions to help them get deeper into the conversation. Good questions are asking someone how they think or feel about something that they are talking about. If you have talked to someone before, ask them about things that they volunteered in the conversation before. Likely, if they brought up something on their own, it is of interest and some importance to them. Ask yourself what other areas that are related to their interests that they would love to talk about.

5. Consider Time and space

Never start a conversation beyond exchanging quick pleasantries unless you have the time to hear the other person out. Places that are noisy with a lot of people around are not the best places to engage in great conversation. Good conversation requires a slow, relaxed pace and a pressure-free atmosphere free of distractions. Coffee shops are great for this purpose. Sports bars—not so much.

[Image: Flickr user Valerie Hinojosa]

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