by Lauren Solnoksy
Having a great conversation doesn’t just happen. It is the result of developing a series of interpersonal communication skills, which many in current generations are struggling to develop. Computers brought email and instant messaging, and smartphones made it all portable and pocket-sized, adding with it text messaging and social media – each making face-to-face communication less of a necessity and more of an inconvenience. Add to that the political and social divisions when even a conversation about the weather can erupt into an argument over global warming and it’s easy to see why having a great conversation isn’t as easy as it used to be.
We all know the basics of a good conversation (i.e., listen, make eye contact, etc.) but there is more to it if you want to have a great conversation. So we’ve compiled some of our top tips to help you have conversations that will leave you engaged and inspired.
1. Assume you have something to learn. When you open yourself up to different perspectives and don’t assert yourself as an expert over your own opinion, your conversation partner is more likely to share their deeper more personal thoughts and opinions on a topic. Be willing to set your opinion to the side and truly learn where the speaker is coming from.
2. Focus. This may seem obvious but often there are distractions present during a conversation that when eliminated allow you to better focus. Put cell phones away, turn off TV screens, and forget about the big meeting you have at work tomorrow. Conversations are the time for multitasking. Do your best to be present and in the moment, focused solely on the conversation at hand.
3. Use open-ended questions. Closed-ended questions like, “Were you scared?” can elicit a quick yes or no answers. But asking an open-ended question like, “How did you feel?” will force the speaker to slow down and think. Their response will likely be more thoughtful and may reveal a deeper answer than you were expecting. Keep this in mind during a conversation and try to ask open-ended questions that begin with who, what, when, where, why and how.
4. Let it go. We’ve all been guilty of this one. You’re in the middle of a conversation and come up with the perfect question or response while the speaker is still talking. It’s time to learn to let it go. Holding on to the thought will inevitably distract you from what the speaker is sharing. Stay present in the moment and recognize that not every thought or your question needs to be shared and asked. Allow the speaker to lead the conversation and respond appropriately after they have finished speaking, taking into account everything they shared up until the last word in your response.
5. You don’t have to relate. We often think that one of the best ways to connect with someone is to share when we have had a similar personal experience, but this can do more damage than good. If someone tells you they are having a problem at work, sharing that you have had problems at work can diminish the speaker’s feelings. Why? Because no two experiences are the same. If you want to show your support and connect, listen to their problem and acknowledge what they are feeling. Avoid trying to compete with their feelings by offering yours up on equal footing.
Say no to conversations that accidentally offend, leave you bored, or have a screen as a middle man. Let’s focus on truly listening and engaging in ways that help us understand and connect with one another.