Do you feel you could get more out of your conversations with colleagues or friends? Does it all sometimes feel a bit superficial? Do they have a short attention span or worse, do you? Concerned that you are not building good relationships or creating positive perceptions? Here are some tips to help you create better conversations.
1. Focus your own attention. We suffer so many distractions: phones and devices, music, adverts, noise, the constant promise of something new... It can be very hard to tune your attention to the ‘dialogue channel’ with the other person. Be aware of the strength of your desire to focus on them and sustain a conversation. That will help, although you will still need self-discipline to consciously avoid the temptation to switch channels, however briefly.
2. Listening. Once you’re tuned in to the ‘dialogue channel’, listen to the conversation rather than just the thoughts in your own head. Engage your brain in working out what the other person is really saying, how they are saying it and what it might mean and then check your assumptions. Do this by asking directly, summarising, or asking for an example. You can make the time to offer a response rather than giving a reaction.
3. Questions. Do most of your questions start with Do, Did, Would, Have ...? Closed questions get you short answers and make for a clunky conversation. Open questions are invitations for the other person to say what they want to say, so start your questions with How, What are, Tell me, Help me understand... etc. Remember that the person asking the questions is leading the conversation so be aware of the balance of questions and answers in the dialogue. If you ask lots but don’t share anything, you’ll look like a detective.
4. Curiosity and Novelty. A great way to capture people’s attention is by stimulating their curiosity. That’s not to say that you try to create an air of mystery. Just offer your own curiosity – “I wonder... What if...?” Encourage thinking about different perspectives, use stories, and be the person who can find a fresh or novel angle or help others to.
5. Light and Dark. There’s a time for Eeyore and a time for Tigger. Whilst not advocating wild mood swings, it is likely that you’ll enjoy more quality conversations if you have a range. So vary the tone, the subject, and your lightness of touch or intensity. We all know people who offer a limited set of responses: that’s a conversational cul-de-sac.
6. “Aren’t I great?” You certainly are a wonderful human being. But hey, guess what, so am I! Don’t spend the conversation dazzling me with your brilliance so you feel pumped. Please, give me a chance to feel good too (and that involves me talking and you listening, by the way).
7. Structure. Randomness has its place (see Light and Dark), but recognise that a satisfying conversation goes through stages. It opens, builds up till participants are fully immersed in it, then loses its energy and is brought to a close. Don’t jump around topics like you’re crashing through the gears.
If you had a previous chat that suffered from what I call “conversus interruptus”, you could demonstrate your conversational prowess by using phrases such as “Continuing on from our chat the other day,” or “I was thinking about what you said...” Wow, you really listened!
8. Their conversational style. You might have noticed how some people are easier to talk to than others. Take time to tune into the wavelength of those who seem to transmit and receive somewhat differently from you. You will increase your conversational flexibility; in other words, you will learn to talk more easily to more people. That is absolutely essential for interpersonal influence.
9. Preparation . If you want to be interesting, stay up-to-date on world news and today’s hot topics wherever you are. If you want to be really interesting, work out how you can make these subjects relevant to the interests, values, concerns or needs of those you talk to.
10. Like. Find something interesting or likeable about the person you are talking to, even if they seem very different or much less fascinating than people you normally talk to. This positive approach will help to build a relationship and generally make the world a better place.
AND BE AWARE…
… of your body language. Is it congruent with what you’re actually saying?
… of what you say and its impact on others. What perceptions are being created?
… that recognition is fundamental. Before we connect, I need to know you see me, are aware of my identity, that you acknowledge me.
… of patterns in your conversations – do you like these? If not, try to STOP. When you become aware of a pattern you don’t want to develop, Stop speaking, Think about what is happening in the conversation, Organise your thoughts, then Proceed to do what you need to do.
© Hilary Fraser 2019