How to Improve Your Conversation Skills
Have you lost your ease with conversation? Were you ever comfortable? There’s a trick to charm, and you can learn it. You CAN be interesting if you improve your skills.
It’s easy to think that charm, like eye color, is a gift of nature you either have or lack. That’s not true.
Charm is a combination of skills, confidence, and adaptability, all of which you can boost. The magic trick isn’t magic: Be interested.
We all convey lack of interest sometimes, in our own ways. Some of us are over-talkers. You might nervously ramble, seek sympathy or approval, vent or lecture. Either way, you are demonstrating more interest in yourself than the other person.
Some of us don’t say enough or remain vague or impersonal, which also conveys lack of interest. Your quiet reserve builds a wall around you.
Consider the suggestions below, which are worth reviewing even if you’re a social genius, and at any age.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: Coaxing Yourself to Do Unpleasant Things
Make an effort
Social skills are a choice. You might think, talking a lot is who I am. It’s not fun to be quiet. You can’t be phony.
Or maybe you just don’t like to say much. You don’t like to share. You too can’t be phony.
But making an effort isn’t phony. If you try to make a good impression, research suggests, people will see more accurately the qualities you value in yourself.
After a really good exchange, you’ll feel more alive, more yourself, and less like you’re going through the motions. Even introverts thrive on connection, only they need it less frequently.
Don’t be afraid of small talk
Especially with strangers. The goal is to get the conversation going. Take a few minutes just to get into a rhythm, when you alternate speaking. Once there’s an exchange going, you can move on.
Ask questions you’d be happy to answer yourself. It’s considered polite to stay away from politics and religion. Safe topics are family, occupation, recreation, and dreams.
Let’s say you’ve been talking about bad weather. You might follow up with a question about dreams: “If I could give you a plane ticket right now, where would you want to go?”
If they stall, tell them where you’d like to go and why.
Catch and pass the ball
Many people approach a conversation like a basketball game, with all the other players on a different team. They’re looking for the moment to grab that ball and take their chance at the basket, scoring a point.
Instead, think of a conversation as basketball within your team. All the players are focused on the player with the ball, ready to accept a pass. They’ll shoot if they’re near the basket, but they’re also happy to pass the ball on.
Focusing on the player with the ball means listening. If you’re just waiting your turn, listening to a voice in your head, you’ll miss the flow. If you hog the ball, the other players will be annoyed. On the other hand, if you’re not engaged and fumble every pass, you’ll come off as boring or awkward.
Conversations move quickly when people find common tastes, interests, and experiences. So you’re best off bringing up topics that genuinely interest you.
However, there are ways to emphasize similarity even when you can’t see quickly what you have in common with the other person or people. The details count: If the person you’re speaking to uses an unusual word or phrase, don’t be afraid to use it as well. People naturally change how quickly they speak and their gestures to match a conversation partner, much research demonstrates. Extroverts and people who are more open to experience may do this more readily. You may have to do this more consciously until it becomes a habit.
If someone expresses an opinion, look for ways you agree, rather than pointing out how they’re wrong. This isn’t phony, if you actually find the areas of agreement. You don’t have to agree with the conclusion to agree with one point along the way.
Simply repeating what someone said will do wonders. This works especially well when there’s a conflict, for example in a negotiation. But it’s useful whenever you want to connect. For instance:
You: “How are you?”She: “Oh, I’m great, I got up at 5 a.m. and got in a run and it totally changed my day, I’m still peppy.” You: “Wow, getting an early start totally changed your day. I always feel great when I rise early but don’t make it every morning. Do you think you can pull that off again tomorrow?”
Just like with a baseball game, it’s more exciting if there’s a goal. So, your goal might be to learn from everyone you meet.
Don’t dismiss people as boring. That’s just lazy. To help a quiet person open up, make your questions open-ended, or if they balk, make them specific and follow up with more.
Often the goal shifts change mid-conversation. A back-up goal might always be to give other people what they seem to want.
Let’s say the person you’re talking to answers your questions and you’re interested and learning. But along the way, you hear a lot of self-doubt or boasting. Either way, they’re insecure, which can be annoying.
Good conversationalists will give them approval. Sincerely, notice something specific about them and its value, and you may make a friend for life.
This is also a chance to learn about yourself. You might notice the next time that your own conversation is all about seeking approval, and they’re not giving it to you. That insight allows you to give up and try something else.
Take your time
Some shy people freeze in terror when there’s a silence. Talkative people, on the other hand, will fill it up immediately.
People will enjoy conversations with you, and you’ll enjoy them more, if you demonstrate that silence is fine. Pause. Take your time.
This will allow you to refocus on the other person if your attention has wandered.
Body language is part of the conversation
Maybe you spend a lot of time texting and on the telephone or talking over video, which distorts facial expressions and keeps you in your chair. In person, remind yourself of the basics.
- Stand or sit up straight.
- Keep your head up and smile.
- Keep eye contact whenever they talk. Look away when they do, so they don’t feel pinned down.
- Direct your body, feet, and head pointed their way.
- Make your little noises (“uh-huh, “oh,” “wow”), and nod to show that you’ve heard them.
If you want a conversation to end, say what you’ve enjoyed about the conversation and, if they don’t get the hint, look away and say something nice again.
August 10, 2021
Janet O’Dell, RN