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How to start and maintain an engaging conversation: common errors in conversations

Updated on August 20, 2012
A squirrel having a lively conversation, but with whom?
A squirrel having a lively conversation, but with whom? | Source
A brother and sister in conversation
A brother and sister in conversation | Source

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.

Paul: But......

Mary: I think it’s stupid. That’s why they are just an ordinary boy band.

Paul: Right....

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!

Exude confidence.

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

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.

Not listening

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!

Poor delivery

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.

Not reciprocating

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?

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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.

Be honest!

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!


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    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      7 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Kenneth!

    • kenneth avery profile image

      Kenneth Avery 

      7 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      Hi, midget38,

      Excellent . . .lay-out; text; title; hub appearance. Excellent. Loved it. And you touched on a subject relevant to all of us. Voted up and away.

      I appreciate finding you on Hubs, and I cordially invite you to follow me. That would make my day.

      I am heading to follow you right now.

      I was helped by your work.



    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      8 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, carol! Absolutely correct. It takes more muscles to frown, so why tire ourselves? And besides, we look so much prettier!

    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 

      8 years ago from Arizona

      Great hub and such wonderful ideas. So many people have not a clue on how to converse...I think the biggest thing is the smile. It makes people feel welcome and accepted.

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      8 years ago from Singapore

      Yes, those are exactly the ones who need this hub! Thanks for sharing!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      8 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks Kas, now I'm going to get me some sunglasses! Thanks for sharing!

    • Sheri Faye profile image

      Sheri Dusseault 

      8 years ago from Chemainus. BC, Canada

      This is a great hub. It would be wonderful for high school students who need to polish their social skills for the work world.

    • Kasman profile image


      8 years ago from Bartlett, Tennessee

      Great job midget. This reminds me of my struggle years ago with talking over people. I've had to learn to become a great listener. I think you highlight amazingly detailed and wonderful points. For that, and because you're cool, you're getting voted up and shared!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      8 years ago from Singapore

      Yes, Ebonny, it's important to give backchannel support! Thanks for sharing!

    • Ebonny profile image


      8 years ago from UK

      Voted up and more. I particularly like your point about listening and then paraphrasing what the other person has said, confirming that you are listening, interested and have understood.

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      8 years ago from Singapore

      Hi Sasha!! Listening is more important than conversing, indeed, and we've to give the other party time to say wht he needs and appreciate his stand too. It's so important for good relationships!! Thanks for sharing!

    • Millionaire Tips profile image

      Shasta Matova 

      8 years ago from USA

      Conversations are really important, and it is so easy to misinterpret things and get misinterpreted. You've offered great pointers on how to make sure that conversations go smoothly. Listening is definitely the answer. Voted up.

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      9 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Patty!! Always so look forward to you stopping by!! True, we always draw closer to the more confident ones who show a bit of oomph. Glad you like the tips!! Will be prowling by your lovely hubs in a bit! Thanks for the share!

    • Patty Kenyon profile image

      Patty Kenyon 

      9 years ago from Ledyard, Connecticut

      Awesome Job Michelle!!!! These are great tips!!!! Listening is definitely key and I agree with exuding confidence as well. People do tend to gravitate towards those that show confidence. Awesome Job with conversation starters such as complimenting clothing, children, music, and even just a "hello"!!

      Voted Up, Interesting, Useful, Awesome, and Shared!!!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      9 years ago from Singapore

      Hi Yes, Glad you've stopped by! Thanks for the read!!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      That is another terrific one, Michelle. Your new profile photo is great.

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      9 years ago from Singapore

      Hi, Ignugent, thanks!! That's really sweet. Am really grateful for that!! Glad you found it useful...I really enjoy it when you pop by!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      9 years ago from Singapore

      LOL! Kim, that is so cute! Thanks for the lovely compliment. Glad it's useful!! Always look forward to your comments and really appreciate you.

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      9 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Carter06! It is really sad that people don't really pay attention to the conversations they have with people these days. Thanks for the votes and share!! Michelle

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      9 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, mmsu!! Glad you've enjoyed it. Really appreciate the share as well!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Another Great hub Michelle. I am really learning so many things from you. I need to know how to strike a chord. Thank you very much.

    • Mama Kim 8 profile image

      Sasha Kim 

      9 years ago

      These are excellent tips! I'm afraid I make a couple of these mistakes sometimes... but I've been trying hard to correct them ^_^ I may write some of this down.. It will give me a little reminder sheet so I'm not too awkward when I talk to people. Voted up and useful!!

    • carter06 profile image


      9 years ago from Cronulla NSW

      Great hub full of such helpful pointers midget...and I think you are so right conversation is an underrated art and needs to be learned...voted UUAI & shared...cheers

    • mmsu profile image


      9 years ago from Pakistan

      Nice info and well written,enjoyed reading it.Voted up and shared!!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      9 years ago from Singapore

      Most welcome, TT!

    • TToombs08 profile image

      Terrye Toombs 

      9 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map.

      aw, thanks, mideget38, you are a sweetheart! :) And, it's my pleasure. :)

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      9 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks interpete!! Sadly, it's an important skill being left in the cold in this age of modern technology. And people always want the spotlight in a conversation.....the fuss and all without realizing that there comes time to let others have their airtime. Thanks for coming by!

    • internpete profile image

      Peter V 

      9 years ago from At the Beach in Florida

      A very well written and interesting hub! I have long thought that being good at listening and talking with others is a valuable skill and this certainly confirms that! I just wish that more people would recognize that listening is a big part of a conversation. Great hub, voted up.

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      9 years ago from Singapore

      Happens to all of us, TT. Especially when we've a lot to say, so it's hard to slow down!! I think, though, that it's mighty interesting having a conversation with you, because you are a funny, engaging and I can see, a kind person to top it off. It wouldn't be a problem! LOL! Thanks for coming by!

    • TToombs08 profile image

      Terrye Toombs 

      9 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map.

      Most excellent, midget38! Valuable information. I'm afraid I tend to rush through a conversation because I get excited or have so much going thru my little mind that I want to get it all out. Or I get distracted. :)

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      9 years ago from Singapore

      Life as a blog, thanks for coming by! Glad this little hub found its way to you. Thank you so much.

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      9 years ago from Singapore

      Keith, you are so right indeed. Conversation is the way to build trust in relationships. A good conversationalist shows his capacity to be trusted, and conversely, to trust as well. Well put, as usual, my friend!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      9 years ago from Singapore

      ChrisIndellicati, thanks for coming by!! Glad you've enjoyed it!

    • Life as a Blog profile image

      Monty Hamilton 

      9 years ago from Austin, Texas

      Great hub! Very interesting, useful, and fun!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Brilliant article, Michelle. Yes, it is highly imperative to know who you can talk to and you know who will listen. Keeping a good conversation is more than just building relationships and friendships; it also shows excellent communication skills and it shows the other person, if you are receiving the message, that you can be trusted to receive and gaint he message they wish to send.

      Very informative! Voted up and sharing!

    • ChrisIndellicati profile image


      9 years ago from New York, NY

      Really great info here voted up and interesting!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      9 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Mary!! True. Especially the younger generation of internet addicts these days. They've seemed to have lost the art of holding a proper conversation with people. I hope that they'll learn, though! Thanks for coming by!

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 

      9 years ago from Florida

      You are SO right. People don't communicate vocally anymore! And when they do, they could use these tips. I have a friend who interrupts me all the time. I can't stand that...I think it's rude.

      I voted this Hub UP, etc. and I'll share, too.

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      9 years ago from Singapore

      That's great, Bill!! Glad that they do work. Conversation is getting to be a lost art and that's why I'm writing about it today, because people are losing the art in this age of modern technology. Thanks for coming by!!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      9 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Very helpful suggestions Michelle; I had to learn many of these things when I was younger and I can attest to the fact that they work.

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      9 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Mary!! Sadly, that's a point which people find the most difficult to do...disagreeing agreeably. They do the direct opposite! And I'm thankful every Mary I know hold's a beautiful conversation!! Thanks for dropping by, the votes, and share!! Really appreciate that!!

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 

      9 years ago from New York

      With all the cell phones, texting and the Internet a good, engaging conversation is surely becoming a lost art! You've really outlined all of the important parts of a good conversation and provided excellent points to follow.

      One of the points that caught my eye was, "disagree agreeably" that particular phrase can not only help a conversation but it can help a relationship, a job, and any number of things where people tend to disagree.

      You are a wise woman Midget! Keep the advice flowing.

      Voted up, useful, awesome, and interesting. Shared with my followers.

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      9 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Janine! That's actually the most important part. Too many of us spend our time talking and trying to be in the spotlight....and it's a real turn off. Thanks for coming by, my dear.

    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 

      9 years ago from New York, New York

      Michelle, a very important topic that many could use a refresher course on how to engage in good conversation. Seriously, too often people will just phone it in. I very much agree with your article on the whole, especially about the listening part. When engaging in conversation, it is very important to listen before we speak at times (truly helps you from sticking your foot in your mouth). Seriously, very good advice here and have voted up, shared and tweeted too!!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      9 years ago from Singapore

      Enjoyed doing it, Shutri, and thanks for sharing yours! These skills are indeed important in any profession. Thanks, my friend, for stopping by!

    • shruti sheshadri profile image

      shruti sheshadri 

      9 years ago from Bangalore, India

      Brilliant! An excellent tip indeed michelle, an art that we writers should definitely improve on. Social skills is so important isn't it? :)

      Thank u for sharing your views !

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      9 years ago from Singapore

      Hey, Richard!! Hope you've had a great weekend. Yes. it's actually the listening part that is the most important in a conversation and sadly something that people pay very little attention too. Guess that's because everyone wants to be the life of the party and have their 15 minutes of fame!! Actually, everyone can have that chance if they want to!! Thanks for dropping by!

    • rcrumple profile image


      9 years ago from Kentucky

      Michelle -

      Very good article! Listening is the key, regardless of all the rest. "God gave us two eyes and one mouth, use them accordingly!" Listening shows interest in what the other person is saying. Ask questions and listen more to understand.

      Great Job!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      9 years ago from Singapore

      An article about making conversations and the common mistakes we make while being in conversation.


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