We all enjoy a meaningful interaction with a friend, peer or family, but sometimes, it is difficult. Conversation can be hard, but here are some key tips that will help to not only draw in your conversational partner, but also help you to be a better participant.
- Smile and pay attention to your body language. While we tend to worry about the words we are speaking, it is very easy to forget that 50 to 70% of our communication is actually conveyed by our body language. Lean forward a little to show engagement and attention to the conversation. Open up your posture rather than having your arms crossed across your body.
- Eye contact is a large part of interaction. When you are talking, if you are attentive to your listener, you will make eye contact about 50% of the time, and while you are listening to them, you will make eye contact about 70% of the time. This is a nonverbal sign of engagement in the interaction and not only builds connection, but let’s your communication partner know that you are interested in them and what they are thinking and saying.
- It is okay to use small talk. Small talk can get a bad rap, but when used as an ice breaker, or to change the subject, it is very useful. It builds engagement, connection and a common ground. After all, you are both experiencing the daily weather, the area you are in, the food you may be eating.
- Ask questions. When you have a topic that you want to get covered, it is easy to not be focused on what your listener is thinking or what they might want to say. It is a skill to be able to draw your conversational partner into the interaction, and asking questions to give them an opening to engage is helpful.
- Use open ended questions as much as you can. It is easy to ask questions that only require a yes/no answer, but this often doesn’t build rapport or further the conversation. Asking an open ended question gives your partner encouragement to embellish and become engaged in the interaction.
- Be nice. Negativity tends to turn others away and drive people off. Though the issues you are discussing may have negatives, try to balance these with positives or put a positive spin on the issue. You may be facing challenges with a heavy work flow at your job, but this also generally means job security and that you are needed. Not that you have to only put a shiny spin on things that are difficult, but try to balance the positive and the negative.
- Find common ground to discuss. Everyone has something in common, from family to work, to weather to challenges. If your communication partner shares a time when they were struggling with a situation at home, you may be able to share a similar or parallel situation, which in the end, could be helpful to them, or most certainly establish that you are sympathetic. A listening ear is a great comfort.
- Be an active participant in the conversation. You can show your conversational partner that you are engaged by your body language, by nodding in response to something they said, by giving verbal engagement cues such as “oh”, “uh-oh”, “that’s amazing”, “oh no!”. You aren’t interrupting, but are providing feedback that you are interested and attentive.
- Keep focused on what your conversational partner is saying, rather than thinking about your response or what you want to add to the conversation. This is easier said than done, and we all tend to fall into the habit of listening to respond rather than simply listening to understand.
- Show that you value the other person’s thoughts and opinions by asking them for advice or perspective. It is a good way to draw someone in to interaction, to build a deeper communication experience, by showing that you value their input and opinions.
Conversation is an art form, and we can build strong and healthy relationships by taking the time to build our own skills in conversation. The world we live in seems to be ruled by text messages, short emails and quick interactions, but the richness comes from deeper connections that must be cultivated.