For some people, the art of conversation is one that they are comfortable with, and they seem to engage others easily and well. For others, it is more challenging. At times, we all feel like we have made a misstep in conversation and shut down what had been a positive interaction. Here are some key errors we all should work to avoid:
- Don’t interrupt. Oh, this is hard. Particularly when an interesting conversation topic is on the table. But resist jumping in and interrupting in order to get a word in. There will be a break and you will be able to add in what you are thinking. That is the beauty of a good conversation. But jumping in and interrupting shuts down your conversational partners and will derail a good interaction.
- Don’t focus on just one person in the group as you are talking, try to include everyone. You can make eye contact with other people, ask questions of them, or even gesture to pull them into the interaction. Group conversation is a wonderful thing, but if it becomes just between two people, the benefit is lost. Work to include others in the topic, to get their thoughts, to expand to be sure to include everyone. You will be amazed at the wonderful viewpoints and relationships you may be exposed to!
- Listen fully, not just to respond. This can be challenging for many people as with all our opinions and thoughts, we really want to be able to put our two cents in. And so we end up focusing on our responses, rather than truly listening and hearing what is said in conversation. If we can quiet our own voice in our head, we can allow ourselves to listen to other people’s viewpoints, knowledge, and experiences, which ultimately will expand our world. Our listeners can tell when we are truly engaged and attentive to what they are trying to tell us.
- Don’t interrogate. Especially when we are getting to know new people, it is easy to quiz them on details rather than ask questions that engage them and allow them to open up in a natural way. Open ended questions encourage people to provide information and thoughts in a way that is natural to them, and actually will help us to know them better. We can build relationships, connections and commonalities when we open up naturally and share life!
- Be stiff and shut down in your body language. When we stand with our arms crossed in front of us, we are presenting a defensive and closed down posture, sending that message without meaning to. It is also possible to send messages we don’t want by how we speak, and how we present ourselves. Slow down your speaking, speak loud enough to be easily heard, and be clear. It may be helpful to take pauses, catching your breath a little in order to slow down and relax.
- Keeping yourself hidden. When you are participating in a conversation, it is important to reciprocate, and in order to do that, you are going to need to share a little about yourself. Now, don’t share any crazy, deep, dark secrets, but do share something similar to what someone else has shared. If they share that as a child they fell out of a tree and broke a bone, and since have been afraid of heights, well, that is a good time to share that you have been afraid of bees ever since you were stung as a child, and those fears are hard to shake. You have given a little of yourself, shared some common ground and built rapport.
Conversation does not need to be a mystery with pitfalls and missteps, but can easily be a comfortable dance with a little awareness. Enjoy your interactions and watch relationships bloom!