Humans have an inherent desire to communicate. In fact, the evolution of the human language is closely tied to our species’ origins. From the dawn of civilization, humans have used conversations to enrich their daily lives, form relationships and push innovation forward.
In professional and career settings, having effective conversations is crucial to advancement, job success, networking and professional growth. We’ll explore effective techniques for becoming an excellent conversationalist and learn more about applying conversation skills to your life and career.
Top techniques for becoming a great conversationalist
These 10 strategies can help you build conversation skills organically without trying to change your personality.
1. Be present.
Our minds often wander to the past and future, and it can be challenging to focus on the present and our immediate surroundings. Being present takes practice. It means being fully aware of the current moment, monitoring your body language and silencing the constant internal dialogue in your head.
When someone isn’t present in a conversation, it’s obvious and can even be insulting. You see their eyes drift, and you may feel less important to them. Next time you’re speaking with someone, clear your mind, rid yourself of distractions and focus on the conversation at hand.
2. Ask how you can help.
Sometimes, people use conversations to vent about issues they face daily. It’s not always enough to listen to these issues. Try putting yourself into their situation, and ask how you can support the other person.
Asking how you can help is especially important in business. An employee or team member may come to you with work-related concerns, such as job stress or feeling unappreciated in the workplace. Offering your help is an excellent way to show your conversation partner you understand and validate their concerns and are willing to help.
3. Don’t just talk about work.
Employment is often the primary topic of conversation when in a networking situation or during a professional development opportunity. It’s a low-hanging fruit that’s easy to bring up and appropriate for most situations. However, when you have an opportunity, break away from typical job or company questions, and ask about someone’s hobbies, future plans and family. Getting to know someone on a personal level can deepen the relationship and create a valuable connection.
4. Know your audience.
If you know you’re going to have a conversation with someone, come prepared with appropriate questions prior to speaking. Having a few conversation starters can smooth an introduction and help you build a rapport. If it’s a work situation, the other person will likely appreciate that you’ve done your homework and are demonstrating interest in their business or life.
Keep in mind, however, that good conversations require flexibility. While having some information ready, allow the encounter to flow naturally.
Tip: It’s just as essential – perhaps even more so – to use conversation skills to run a successful virtual meeting. Virtual meetings can be awkward, but smoothing the conversation can make your participants feel at ease.
5. Test conversation elements.
Do you frequently answer the same questions during conversations? Do you sometimes stumble at proficiently explaining your hobbies or background? Sometimes prerehearsed answers are the key to success.
Test out different response variations in multiple conversations to see how people receive them. Did a previous answer get a laugh? Was there an awkward silence after another variation of that response? You can also test out various questions and comments to see what works and feels organic and comfortable.
6. Be vulnerable and share challenges.
Vulnerability can lead to stronger connections during a conversation. Everyone appreciates honesty. Instead of avoiding sticky topics or dancing around unpleasant details, build authentic interactions by digging a little deeper. Share the challenges you’re facing. You might be surprised to discover you aren’t alone. Of course, it’s always essential to read the room and understand there’s a time and place for certain conversations.
7. Focus on giving.
Conversations are a give-and-take endeavor. One person asks a question, and the other one answers. One person talks, and the other one listens. It’s challenging to carry on a conversation with someone who isn’t participating. To keep an active role in conversations, ask questions when appropriate, and give thoughtful responses when someone asks you a question.
Networking conversations are an excellent opportunity to connect with people in your industry, but they can also be an opportunity to give to others. Instead of focusing only on what others can do for you, try focusing on what you can offer other people. This mindset might open up opportunities and connections you may not have otherwise experienced.
8. Get out of your comfort zone.
We all like to talk about things we’re knowledgeable about or comfortable discussing. However, the most interesting and rewarding conversations are often outside our comfort zones. Ask about things you don’t understand. Don’t be embarrassed to admit you’re unfamiliar with a topic. Your openness gives other people a chance to display their knowledge and helps foster a connection. We gain so much when we’re brave and venture into the unknown.
9. Practice makes perfect.
The best way to become a top-tier conversationalist is to gain experience. Strike up conversations with as many people as possible. It might be awkward at first, but your conversation skills and comfort level will improve as you go. Learn from your mistakes and keep moving forward.
10. Never lose eye contact.
It’s easy to lose concentration while holding a conversation. Sometimes we’re tempted to glance at our phones or let our eyes wander the room, searching for new people. Try to keep your concentration by maintaining eye contact with your conversation partner. Eye contact is also a way to show your conversation partner you’re confident and relaxed in the discussion. Give your conversation the attention it deserves.
Did you know? Along with an inability to maintain eye contact, body language mistakes in communication include slouching, inattentiveness, exaggerated gestures and fidgeting.
What is a conversationalist?
A conversationalist enjoys and displays proficiency in communicating with other people. Conversations can foster relationships, provide learning experiences, enable personal connections and facilitate a creative environment.
Starting and maintaining conversations with customers, your team, management, vendors and even people you don’t know is a valuable skill, particularly when trying to further your career. Fortunately, even if you’re not naturally extroverted or particularly chatty, you can learn to become an excellent, thoughtful conversationalist.
Benefits of being a brilliant conversationalist
Once you’ve learned and practiced conversation skills, you’ll gain benefits in the workplace and in your personal relationships.
- Conflict resolution: A conversation is an essential tool in avoiding and resolving workplace conflict or personal conflict. A productive conversation can prevent miscommunication while respecting others’ differences. A straightforward conversation should always be the first conflict-resolution method you try. Resolving a conflict requires actively listening while providing a safe and balanced environment to exchange ideas. Conflicts are normal, but a conversationalist understands that talking is the best remedy.
- Image improvement: The most challenging part of improving your image or even strengthening a company’s reputation is communicating a message to the outside world. Excellent conversationalists share their desires and intentions effectively in personal and professional settings. It’s also essential to exhibit the confidence to engage people in various situations – even awkward ones.
- Personal growth: Great conversation leads to experiences and interactions that influence who we are as individuals. A good conversation is essentially an incubator for professional growth. Stepping out of your comfort zone can broaden your perspective as you learn about unexplored topics. To grow from a conversation, ensure you’re actively listening.
- Connections: The more you talk with someone, the stronger the bond you create. Many believe conversations are the lifeblood of relationships. When communication is lacking, relationships wither. Conversationalists can form and cultivate relationships both professionally and personally.
- Organized thoughts: Conversations force us to articulate our thoughts in an organized format for easy consumption. This mental exercise helps us unclutter our minds while connecting with those around us. Conversations often provide us answers to questions we struggle with or resolutions to issues we’ve been facing. Instead of struggling silently, talk to someone. You may find the solution in a conversation.
- Enjoyment: A brilliant conversationalist creates a fun environment in any conversation. They can make you laugh, help you learn something new and make you feel heard. If your conversations aren’t enjoyable, you need to reevaluate your technique. A meaningful conversation cultivates happiness for everyone involved. Never make jokes at anyone’s expense or start a conversation with malicious intent.
- Team building: A healthy team communicates. Conversations build trust within a competitive environment. Communication allows us to share ideas, detail goals and foster a culture of community. Brilliant conversationalists understand this concept and use their skills to form an effective team environment.