How to express yourself through the art of conversation
How to have great conversation
Being a good conversationalist is a key characteristic of successful individuals. The ability to speak is one of the first capacities to develop in children and becomes a product and a part of their unique personality. The assumption then, is that you can already speak and converse with others. The reason behind this article is to help you to become an excellent conversationlist, to become not just the person who can talk to anyone at any time, but the person anyone enjoys talking to at any time. Becoming a well-liked, accomplished conversationalist requires practice but once developed, seems effortless.
Conversation is the simple act of speaking with and listening to one or more people. There should be an equal exchange of ideas by both sides. There are some specific rules one should always be aware of, but the general idea behind those rules is that you are doing as much listening as you are talking with others. It should be noted, however, that a good conversation is not the same thing as a debate, an interview, a negotiation, notification, confession or shouting match. True conversation occurs despite differences in age, status, family, ability, education and other such trivialities.
One important part of interacting with others, long before any conversations begin, is attitude . It doesn't matter how well you speak, how informed you are, how talented or interesting you may be; if you enter the situation, or event, party, whatever, with the wrong attitude, none of those wonderful qualities will matter to anyone. People like confidence and they like to be around people who are comfortable, happy to be present and looking forward to meeting them. You must portray this image regardless of how you really feel inside. Even if you are terrified of social gatherings or conversation, don't feel well, or have low self esteem; there is good news - you can fake confidence and easiness. Enter every situation expecting people to like and accept you. Expect them to be happy to see you, you're part of the group, you're a good person and you are welcome there.
There are four simple things to know about confidence:
- People you don't know don't already have preconceived notions about who you are, they take you at your own evaluation. How people react to you is a direct reflection of how you feel about yourself. You may not realize it but you unconsciously act out your personal feelings about yourself: if you feel you have no social skills, you probably shy away from others, act reclusive, avoid speaking to others, don't smile a lot, hide yourself away from the group and other such actions. It is these actions that lead other people to agree with your own opinion, that indeed, you have no social skills. If you feel you are a nobody, your actions let everyone know you feel this way and then they begin to treat you as such. So, tell yourself you're an intelligent, interesting, kind, caring person and others will believe it too.
- Mind your emotions. Other people pick up on your emotional state and mirror it. When you are depressed, they seem depressed. When you're bored, they will be bored, but if you have enthusiasm and excitement, they will too.
- People act they way you think they will act. It is somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy: if you think people are going to mistreat you, ignore you, or act as though they're better than you, ultimately they will. They end up treating you how you expect them to because you invite them to do so by your actions towards them. If you think someone will ignore you, you probably ignore them, subsequently they return the favor by ignoring you.
- Stand up straight and smile. Body language conveys more than you realize. From the moment you arrive in a situation, your body movements tell others exactly how you feel. Some of the more common aspects are a person's posture and fidgeting. Stand up straight, not with military stiffness, just shoulders back, head level, and move calmly, purposefully. This commands attention and respect, people can tell you matter, to yourself and to them. Keeping your head level and making eye contact indicates assurance and attention. When you bow your head, look at the floor, don't make eye contact; these gestures indicate vulnerability, self-consciousness, possibly even guilt. Head tilting to one side can also indicate uneasiness or confusion. Fidgeting, is of course, any type of restlessness from clearing your throat constantly, crossing your arms over your chest, playing with a pen, necklace, hair, or other object, adjusting glasses, picking at fingernails, smoothing clothing, glancing around at clocks, watches, leaning, rocking, and many others. All of these activities are fidgeting and indicate nervousness and insecurity. Although you yourself may not even notice that you do such things, others do.
Once you have the right attitude, you're well on your way to being a charming conversationalist. There is a natural, logical progression of all conversations:
- Introductions. These are initial courtesies such as the accepting greetings of 'nice to meet you,' or 'how are you doing' and 'I'm fine, how are you,' or if you have encountered the person before or people before, a leading line of interest such as , 'weren't you at Chris's last party?' or 'I worked on Market Street last year,' or some other commonality.
- Exchange of Information. This may take a few minutes or longer. It is not an exchange of your deepest darkest secrets or gossip, rather it is basic facts such as 'Yes, I do work at Smith & Smith,' or common interest such as 'Yes, I do watch Survivor,' The goal is to find common ground for discussion. Talking with anyone for five minutes is more than long enough to find several items in common. There may be many bland observations and uninteresting facts put forth first, but such mutual interests will be found.
- Opinions on items of mutual interest. These are statements relating only to opinion on the above mentioned topics such as 'I think Survivor will only last one more season,' This is not the time for deep personal insights or feelings. The discussion should still be light and not so intimate. Revealing too much personal information at this point is not a good choice as it assumes an intimacy that may not yet be present between you and the other person/people.
- Feelings about the information. Once you have gotten to know the person/people a little better and have passed beyond the level of simple courtesies and general information as well as opinions and basic discussion on the topics - then you can reveal more about your personal feelings on matters. Personal feelings are things such as "Actually I'm really ticked off that James was voted out last week," or "I'm really ticked off that the show was moved to Wed. nights!"
The point of observing this progression of conversation is to keep everyone comfortable and involved. Skipping the first few steps and immediately telling your opinions or feelings on things to someone you just met may make them feel uncomfortable. You can't assume everyone is an 'instant friend' and is comfortable with a sudden level of intimacy with you. If you don't take the time to get to know the other person and your shared interests as well as their opinions on them, then why should they care what your feelings on those interests are?
Having established the basic framework for how a conversation progresses, there are a few things to remember. Things that you should do are:
- Vary what you say between statements and questions. In addition to basic statements and questions about facts, alternate with information about yourself and questions about the other person (although not too personal).
- Use the word 'you' more than you use the word 'I'. The conversation will include times when you need to say things about yourself and how what is being discussed relates to you, but make sure it is proportional to discussion concerning the other person. In a group, try to include everyone in the group as much as possible. For those who haven't spoken much, try to find a way to bring them into the conversation more. Use words such as 'we', 'our' and 'us' to establish a connection, a feeling of being in the same boat.
- Be interested in what others have to say, meaning, listen and ask questions. Be friendly, not confrontational, courteous, open-minded and respectful. Keep a cheerful expression on your face and look from person to person in a group to show that you're paying attention to everyone present. Don't be afraid to show ignorance on any topic, no one expects you to know everything about everything. Simply say "I don't know' or 'I'm not familiar with that' or 'I've never seen that show'. It allows people to identify more with you when you don't seem like a know it all.
- If you are uncomfortable in group discussions, try to find one on one opportunities. There are always others just as uncomfortable as you at every party, event, social gathering, etc. Find someone standing alone and have a one on one conversation, begin with an initial courtesy, such as a comment about the event or question about whether that person has attended before. Don't spend all your time with this one person, move to other individuals as well.
- Speak using details, enthusiasm and descriptions. What good is it to tell someone you went to Chicago if you fail to include any details or descriptions about the trip. Saying you went to Chicago is uninteresting and leaves no opportunity for the other person to elaborate or comment. Saying you went to Chicago and went on an architecture boat tour, how beautiful the buildings were, you didn't know they turned the river green for St. Patrick's Day, etc. The added details give the other person a chance to say they too took an architecture tour or they've been there at St. Patrick's Day or any other numerous comments on the buildings, city, etc. However, if you tell these details with a somber, boring tone, the other person will probably be bored with it too and will not comment. When you speak with enthusiasm, it makes the topic exciting to the other person as well
There are many things to remember that you should not do. These are the DONT's of conversation:
- Don't gossip
- Don't interrupt
- Don't bore - never speak uninterrupted for more than four minutes at a time. If any of the following occurs, you've become a bore: your audience wears a glazed, tuned-out expression, they are continuously looking around for something or someone else, people keep trying to interrupt you but you don't let them because what you have to say is so important (to you), you tell the same stories at every event whether they relate to the current topic or not.
- Disagree in a polite manner - learn to disagree in a friendly, non-confrontational tone of voice. Let the other person know you value their opinion and would like to know more or would like to compare/discuss the differences between yours and theirs. Polite ways of saying this are "Let me see if I understand your point of view...' or 'There are two sides to that...' or even 'I have a somewhat different opinion...'. It is not acceptable to condescend or degrade someone with comments such as 'Are you crazy?' or 'You must be on something...' or 'Nobody believes that..' It is also not appropriate to say, 'No, you're wrong.' when it relates to someone's opinion. Opinions are subjective and everyone has a right to have their own.
- Apologize when necessary. If you do offend someone or say the wrong thing, simply say you're sorry. Say it anyway you can from explaining you didn't know what you were thinking, you don't know why you said it, to you messed up, you're sorry. It is not alright to say 'don't be so sensitive', 'I was just kidding' or 'lighten up'.
- Know when to say good-bye. At social events, the goal is for socialization with many people so at some point, you need to end the conversation to allow yourself and the other person to talk to others. Ending a conversation does not mean it wasn't successful, it simply means it is time to move on to another. End the conversation politely with statements such as 'It's been nice talking with you,' or 'It was good to catch up,' or 'I have to go now,'. Any simple sign-off should do and the person will understand the conversation has ended. If you are not comfortable using a simple sign-off such as it was nice meeting you, or if the other person doesn't want to end the chat, then come up with a polite excuse such as needing fresh air or having to help another guest, having to get another drink/more food, use the restroom, etc. Do not end conversations with insincerities such as 'I'll call you,' 'Let's do lunch,' or 'Let's get together sometime,' unless you actually mean it.
Conversation is such an important skill for business success and personal happiness it is one we should all master. There is a nearly unlimited amount of specific information that relates to interpersonal communication and only the basics have been mentioned here. Further information on the art of communication will be published at later dates.