6 Tips For Having Productive Conversations

Ever walk away from an exchange feeling as though you didn’t get anything out of it? Prevent that connectionless FOMO with these linguistic maneuvers.

6 Tips For Having Productive Conversations

If we want to get awesome ideas or awesome jobs, we need to be able to talk to people. But somewhere along the way we lost the subtle art of conversation. Which can lead to people–even superheroes–living in their own bubbles.


Thankfully Forbes contributor John Hall has assembled a collection of ways to have more meaningful conversations–let’s talk over half a dozen of the most excellent ways.

1) Pay attention.

You have 150 billion bits of attention in a lifetime. Spending a few on the person you’re talking to instead of fretting about what you’re going to have for dinner is a worthwhile investment.

2) Let people sell themselves.

One of the first lessons in nonsleazy networking: They’re just as scared of you as you are of them, just freaked out at making vulnerable what they’re up to in life.

So let them share, Hall says, then give them your story.

“A lot of times, a person will self-identify a need right after you talk about what you do,” he adds.


3) Summarize their viewpoint.

When someone restates your position to you, you start to trust them more. So we should be mindful about doing the same: This will validate their viewpoint, as philosopher-provocateur Dan Dennett has shown us, allowing you to disagree with them, if necessary, with an extra dose of graciousness.

4) Make eye contact, but not too much.

Not making enough eye contact signals that you’re untrustworthy or unreliable, research has found. And as we’ve noted, there’s such a thing as an ideal amount of eyeballing:

“The Goldilocks of eye contact comes in two flavors: If you’re in a one-on-one setting, hold eye contact for 7 to 10 seconds; while if you’re in a group, shorten that to 3 to 5 seconds.

5) Do your homework, but don’t be a creep.

“There’s a thin line between properly preparing yourself for a conversation and being creepy,” Hall notes. That line is different in every situation, we have to assume–but if you’re trying to know as much about the other person as Facebook does, you’re probably going too far.

Drop the barriers.

To paraphrase the Persian poet Rumi, your task is not to seek for conversation, but merely to seek and to find the barriers that you have built against it. Hall translates it into the office:

If you see an opportunity to joke around or personalize a conversation, take it–even if it’s early. It will decrease barriers from the start, and the shift will enable you to have a better conversation.

What have you learned about how to have a real-life conversation? Let us know in the comments.


Hat tip: Forbes

[Primitive Communication: Bikeriderlondon via Shutterstock]

About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.