|Small Talk isn't just for "wowing" someone on a date.|
Having excellent conversational skills is useful for many other things besides impressing someone on a date, or making small talk with strangers at a party. It is vitally important whenever you need to make a new co-worker feel at home, or to welcome a new family member at a reunion, or when you are joining a new organization, and in a host of other situations where you need to present yourself well to people who do not already know you -- and perhaps, even for "old married folks" who are beginning to feel like they "don't know how to talk to one another" any more! It is also an essential first step in helping you to make friends at any age.
The following post is adapted from an article which was originally published on wikiHow, where it was contributed to by over 620 people and read by over two and a half million. If you click on the link just mentioned and enter the words "conversation skills" in their search box, you will find many more excellent articles on this and similar topics.
How to Have a Great Conversation
from wikiHow - The How to Manual That You Can Edit
The art of conversation takes practice, but it's not as hard as you might think. Whether it's at a dinner party, your school, or over the phone, a great conversation starts when two or more people are on the same page and feel comfortable talking with each other. By following the steps in this article, you can learn to relax and have a great conversation with just about anybody.
StepsSample Conversation Topics
Find out a few things about the person you'll be talking to (if you can) before you actually start a conversation. Websites as well as Facebook and Twitter profiles can be good sources of information, as long as you're careful not to come across as a stalker. Kick off the conversation with some interesting information that's not too personal.
- "I was looking at the biochemistry department website and saw that you're working on a pretty interesting thesis! How did you come to choose that topic? "I saw on the office memo that you're working on the outreach project for local schools. How's that going?"
- "Is it true that you just went skydiving?"
- Ask questions so that the other person can talk about himself or herself. "What do you like to do?" "What sort of things have you done in your life?" "What is happening to you now?" "What did you do today or last weekend?" Identify things about them that you might be interested in hearing about, and politely ask questions. People love having a chance to discuss their passions or their subjects of expertise.
- Ask questions for clarification. If your conversation partner is talking about an occupation or activity you do not understand, take the opportunity to learn more.
- Make sure that your interest appears genuine. Maintain eye contact and nod your head or interject comments like, "That's interesting."
- Use open-ended questions. Skip the simple "yes" or "no" questions. Instead, ask a question that will allow your partner to talk extensively. "So you love to go hang gliding. What made you get into it in the first place?"
- Start superficial. Ask more generic questions at first. Then, your partner's comfort level. If your partner seems willing to open up, then you can ask some more personal questions.
- Inject invitation and inspiration.
- An "invitation" happens when you say something that lets your partner know that it's his or her turn to speak. Generally, invitations come in the form of questions.
- "Inspiration" means that you come up with a great topic that makes your partner want to have a discussion. For instance, you could share a funny story that will remind your partner of a similar thing that happened in his or her life, or you could share your thoughts about something and inspire your partner to respond.
- Comment on a general interest topic. Some people briefly read the current events section of the news so that if the conversation runs dry, they can comment on something of general interest. "Did you hear about the new underground park being built in uptown?" is both interesting and informative.
- Listen actively. A conversation will go nowhere if you are too busy thinking of other things, including what you plan to say next. If you listen w'ell, you'll identify questions to ask based on the other person's statements.
- Paraphrase back what you heard the person say. "So you're saying that skydiving is the biggest rush you've ever experienced?" Doing this shows respect for the other person and gives him or her the chance to correct your understanding, affirm it or embellish upon it.
- Encourage the other person to do most of the talking. Your conversation partner will feel as though you are attentive and engaged, and you will get the credit for being a great conversationalist.
- Forget yourself. Dale Carnegie once said, "It's much easier to become interested in others than it is to convince them to be interested in you." If you are too busy thinking about yourself, what you look like or what the other person might be thinking, then you will never be able to relax. Your discomfort will make the other person uncomfortable.
- Voice disagreement with respect. When stating a difference of opinion, remember these points:
- Acknowledge your common ground before disagreeing, and try to omit the word "but" from your statement. Instead, try substituting the word "and." Many people find it less antagonistic.
- Don't manipulate the talk to serve your own agenda and steamroll your counterpart. Never use a conversation as a way to boost your ego.
- Accept occasional silences. Take a drink or a bite of your dinner while you think of the next thing that you want to say. Did something that was said generate a new thought or topic in your mind? Use the pause to transition smoothly into further conversation.
- Occasionally, ask the question that is looming over the conversation. Humans are social creatures, and society has etiquette that's based on rules. There's so much etiquette it would be painful to list, but it's worth noting that sometimes people enjoy stepping beyond etiquette and talking about the things they thought they weren't allowed to talk about. It can be really refreshing, and pave the way for great conversation.
- There's a rule out there about not discussing religion and politics, and it's generally a good one. If you think you can have a discussion with someone without making them feel threatened by your beliefs, go for it!
- Love is another forbidden subject. We don't want to pry into other people's personal lives, just as we don't want others prying into our own. Sometimes, however, people want an excuse to talk about their love life. If your conversational partner says something like "I don't think that's an appropriate topic," apologize and move onto another subject.
- Tell stories, preferably funny ones. Stories are the spice of life. Joan Didion famously said "We tell ourselves stories in order to live," and many people happen to believe her. There's something about an expertly told story that takes us to a different place, allowing us to escape our tiny lives and live a grander existence. Don't be afraid to go to that place in your conversation. A couple things to remember in your storytelling:
- Take it slow. Don't rush your story. Pause for dramatic effect when you need it. A steady, measured approach will draw out the story and keep your audience enthralled.
- Transition into your story. "Funny you said that," or "Speaking of hoaxes," or "Actually, something similar happened to me not too long ago" will help the story feel like a natural evolution of the conversation.
- Tell a reality-based story. In other words, something that actually happened. Truth has a way of being stranger than fiction, and a story that's been fabricated just feels a little more empty than something that actually happened.
- In a pinch, comment on the awkwardness of it all. If you're really at a loss for words and the conversation is shrinking faster than cellophane under a bit of heat, comment on how awkward the conversation has become; be humorous about it:
- "I'm sorry, my awkwardness juts out at such...awkward times. Enough with the formalities. What do you really want to talk about?"
- "We're trying pretty hard, aren't we. There must be something essential that we're missing. You're not a cat person are you?"
- "I'm sure we have something in common. How about we get a drink and let some of the alcohol do the talking? You look like I need a drink."
- Know when the conversation has ended. Even the best conversations will eventually run out of steam or be ended by an interruption. Smile, state that you enjoyed the conversation and say goodbye. Ending on a positive note will make the other person want to talk to you again.
- Make sure you pause between sentences. Doing this allows the other person to ask a question or to interject a thought of their own. Remember, you want to have a conversation, not a monologue.
- Approach the person you want to talk to with confidence. Being around confident people makes others feel good. Your infectious energy and enthusiasm will make everyone in the conversation feel confident and comfortable. Projecting confidence is the key to a good conversation.
- Pay the other person a compliment. For example, a statement like, "I like your handbag" could lead to a discussion over stores, bags or anything else that you can imagine.
- Avoid dwelling on a lackluster conversation. Sometimes the other person is distracted or simply getting over a bad day.
- If a person is not a type of person that you can have a good friendly conversation with, then just go to another person that can be more appreciate your efforts.
- Sometimes, a great conversation can keep going if the person you want to talk to plays something that you also play, for example, a game, or a sport. It can also work with places you go to, or certain activities that you do.
- Always smile when necessary. This doesn't mean you should do so after everything s/he says though. It simply means that while the conversation is positively developing, you can further encourage its development by showing your partner that you are genuinely interested in what s/he has to say. It also shows that you want to know more in a subtle way and makes the other person want to divulge more because of your pleasant response. Basically, facial expression is key.
- Talk about your hobbies and her hobbies.
- When talking to him at school make sure to end the conversation by saying something like: "Ohh I gotta go. Sorry, bye!" when the topic is real good, this leaves him wanting to talk to you even more the next time.
- Only start conversations when it's a good time for both of you. They won't want to talk if they're in a rush and they might get annoyed with you.
- See also the following Blog entry: How to Overcome Shyness with Cognitive-Behavioral psychology.
- Avoid cutting the other person off in mid-sentence or during a natural pause. Let the person finish his or her thoughts before continuing with thoughts of your own.
- Beware of potentially inflammatory topics like religion and politics. Don't venture into these topics with someone you don't know.