How to start and maintain an engaging conversation: common errors in conversations
Paul: Hi, Mary, have you heard about the latest Boy Band.....
Mary: I know!! One Direction!
Paul: They have a great album......
Mary: Yeah, yeah! You Don’t Know You’re Beautiful, Right?
Paul: It’s a great song.
Mary: I think it’s a very childish song.
Mary: I think it’s stupid. That’s why they are just an ordinary boy band.
Mary: I swear if my kids buy the album, I’ll cut off their pocket money.
Paul: Never mind.
I believe that everyone who reads this is bound to be a little frustrated with Mary (thank goodness all the Marys I know are far from being this way in a conversation). She had already committed a few conversational faux pas which make a person extremely frustrating to talk to, which I will be dealing with a little while later! We all get extremely peeved when we meet someone who is bad conversationalist.
Conversation is indeed an underrated art. We do it everyday, and we do not realize how important it is to relationships and career. A person with great conversational skills gives himself or herself an edge over most others in relationships and in the workforce as well.
There are reasons why a good conversation is so vital and we often make mistakes in conversing with others without realizing it.
Why it is important to hold a good conversation
Contributes to career growth and opportunities
I believe many notice this. There are situations when some people sit lower on the career rung than others, though they do not fall behind their peers in ability. If we do observe them carefully, it is their ability to strike a chord with others and relate to them in a conversation that makes them stand apart from others. They interact well with others and build great rapport with them. This ultimately gives them an edge.
Conversational skills are a gauge with which people measure your capability at work. It contributes to the overall presentation of ideas. Needless to say, the ideas that are prized are not necessarily that far better off than those that are not; it is just that they are presented better in a conversation. The person who has succeeded in promoting his or her idea has done so, sometimes, through the sheer power of conversation and interpersonal skills alone.
It helps in maintaining relationships
A good conversation is important not just for career, but in fostering any relationship. Putting it simply, no one would want to go on a date with someone who is a bad conversationalist because it would represent boredom!! At any gathering, those who hold poor conversations are automatically excluded from them, whether on purpose or not. It is a way to make oneself assured of one’s social and professional standing.
How to make small talk
How to hold a great conversation
For the more introverted, holding a conversation can be a challenge. Being less inclined to speak up, they may find the conversation a difficult art to master. I hope that these suggestions help us all get on the right conversational track!
Everyone is drawn to a person who projects an air of confidence. Having a confident spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend or friend makes one feel a bit better, though by no means should it be used to judge a person’s quality of character. It is just that a person’s enthusiasm and energy is infectious and helps to liven the general mood. It generally helps to make everyone comfortable. Imagine a dinner party without such a person present. Things are bound to get really boring!
Find out about the person you are conversing with, whenever possible.
Where circumstances allow, find out about the person you are conversing with beforehand. It helps you to source topics of conversation that will engage both of you.
When that is not possible, start off with a bit of small talk first. Many people do not like small talk because they find it a waste of time, and with frankness, I say that I am one of those people! Small talk does have its uses, however. With people you have not had the pleasure of meeting before, how else is it possible to get to know them? Only then is it possible to break common ground and continue the conversation. Using it is a good start to finding out things about the other party so that you can continue to be engaged talking to each other.
Ask them questions.
I find this to be so beneficial because it shows your interest in the people you are conversing with. Everyone wants to feel that the other party is interested in what they are saying. It also helps you ferret out information that will help to sustain the conversation, especially with people whom you have never met before.
Listening is as vital to a conversation as speaking is. Turn taking has to come into play when conversing with one another, and the roles of listener and conversationalist are reversed throughout the process. Practice active listening and really hear what the other party has to say; he will then be more motivated to carry on speaking with you.
It is also good to paraphrase what the person has said in your own words. If he says that the stock market is fluctuating badly, just do a rejoinder - “oh, you were saying that it’s been moving up and down recently?” Again, it shows your interest in the person.
Backchannel support refers to a term in which people show with short, nonverbal responses that they are listening. This is to show their interest in the person they are speaking to and encourage him or her to speak further.
Though some may disagree, statistics show that women offer more backchannel support than men. According to the book Language, Society and Power by Jason Jones, women are more supportive conversationalists, though of course there are many exceptions to the norm.
Types of backchannel support include the “uh huh’ or simply nodding the head. It encourages the conversation to go on.
Consider your responses.
Being a slightly more impulsive person, I often make the mistake of not thinking before I respond, and the other party sometimes takes the response a little personally. It is good to consider what effect your response will have on the other party before issuing it.
It is good to disagree agreeably. If you disagree with something the other party says, do not disagree right away, as the risk of conflict is markedly increased. Agree with something that he has said first - there is always something to agree on - before pointing out any differences in opinion. Of course, offer logical, and not emotional, reasons for disagreeing. Playing the devil’s advocate and pretending to agree with him might help sustain the conversation for a while, but overdoing it may cause you to seem less sincere and even hostile.
Keep from a conversation that boosts your own ego.
How many times have we been in conversations where the other party simply shows off what he knows? The ego trip can be rather grating. So we cannot show off in a conversation. If we come away from a conversation feeling full of ourselves, we have probably done that to a greater or lesser degree. It causes you to lose respect in the long run.
Do not panic when there is a lull in the conversation.
The lull can be for any number of reasons. It can be because the other party needs time to think through his responses or because the other party prefers you to carry on with the conversation. Or, the both of you may have run out of things to say viz the topic! Simply start the ball rolling on another topic of conversation if lulls occur.
Remember that it is not always your fault if a conversation isn’t going as well as it should.
You may be doing everything right, like offering backchannel support and being a really active listener. Still, the conversation does not turn out as well as you would like it to. The person may be preoccupied or lack conversational skills, so it is up to you to continue conversing with him.
Know when the conversation is over.
This is usually when the both of you have run out of things to say or if the other party gives a hint. He may feel bad about terminating the conversation with you, so you will know when he really needs to leave if he starts shifting his feet or looking around. Close the conversation at that point.
10 common mistakes in conversations
Without realizing it at times, people make mistakes in conversations. Here are ten of the most common ones.
There are some who think that being the conversationalist all the time means that he or she is doing things the right way in a conversation. This is a mistake;the roles are always switched in a conversation so it is important to be a good listener as well. Not listening, as said before, shows disinterest.
Not having your facts checked.
In the excitement of a conversation, we sometimes say things without having our facts screened, and when checked, this can become a source of embarrassment. It is good to leave the house with a newspaper in hand; they give your conversation factual basis!
Speaking too fast, mumbling and poor body language (like slouching when conversing with someone) mars the delivery of a good conversation. Body language will be another topic that I will cover in due course. Make the effort, too, to pause in the conversation to give yourself room to think and for the other party to take over.
Hogging the spotlight
In any situation, this is annoying and a tad selfish, because everyone has something of worth to say and should be allowed due airtime. All parties should be allowed the spotlight in a conversation.
Talking about weird, negative or controversial topics
If the topic make you feel awkward, it is probably a controversial one that should be avoided. This depends on the social context of the situation as well. It is less adequate to talk about your success at gambling, let’s say, when at a school’s annual meeting for parents.
Know when it is time to change the topic.
Talking about your new dress for ten minutes can be a bore because no one really wants to hear about it, unless, perhaps if he asks. Even then, it is not a good idea to go on about it for too long, as it isolates listeners.
Like any social situation, if you do not respond to what the other party is saying it is taking his sharing a little for granted and making him feel rather foolish. Respond to let him know that his sharing is of worth.
Not contributing much
Not contributing much to a conversation can be a social faux pas that tells the other person that he is not saying anything of worth. Of course, there will be topics which you will have less knowledge of. You would not catch me talking about maths, for example. Even if the topic is about something you have less knowledge of, offer the person some support as he has made the effort to share something he thinks is valuable.
A good conversation
Do you value a good conversation?
Books you might like
A few great conversation tips
Always try to broach these topics as everyone has something to say about them!
The day of the week
I always get a good response when I ask how someone’s week has been. It is a great conversation starter to show that you care for a person.
Simply smile at the person and say hello or hey first.
Gradually welcome the person into your social boundary and make him feel comfortable with a hey or hello, then start the conversation going! If you go straight to the person, it might make him or her feel intimidated.
What do you think of that book/movie/song?
Everyone is bound to do one of these things! A good book or movie is always a great conversation starter.
Compliment his dressing
This makes a person feel valued and raises his esteem. It helps to draw him or her into the conversation.
Talk about their kids!!
Kids are always a great way to break common ground. Talk about their kids....the other party will have lots of stories to share.
With new people, it can be good to just join in when the other party or parties seem welcoming and say, “Mind if I join you, there doesn’t seem to be anyone else I can talk to here.” Most people would be more than happy to oblige.
I hope that these tips help in starting and maintaining great conversations with your relatives and friends! Enjoy sharing them as much as I have. Happy conversing!
Other advice articles by Michelle Liew
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