Fun fact: In high school, I dated someone without ever actually talking to him…then broke up with him via written note, folded 90s-style. I am an introvert. Obviously. And 15 years later, I’m still caught in a never-ending battle to push myself out of my quiet, peaceful home into…well…society, where people want to interact and do things like…talk. But most of the people I talk with today are surprised to learn I’m introverted. Why? I’ve mastered the art of conversation.
And it’s really not all that difficult. The idea is to follow a few flexible “steps” in a conversation, and keep some guidelines in mind.
It sounds unnatural, right? Trying to guide a human interaction along certain steps and guidelines? But I promise that if you follow these steps, you will not come across as some weird robot, but as a warm, friendly person that’s genuinely interested in the other person, and interesting themselves!
So how can you master the art of conversation?
Master the Art of Conversation By Following Simple Steps
- Start with a hello, how are you. Basic, right? Oh man, you’re already one step closer to becoming a master at this!
- Introduce who you are and why you are relevant to the situation. So if you’re at a wedding, “I’m an old college roommate of the bride.” If you’re at a preschool function, “I’m Sparklefoot’s mom.” (Don’t laugh, these are literally the names we’re coming up with now.) Explaining why you’re there helps to establish common ground with the other person, and naturally invites them to explain why they’re there.
- Make an observation or state a casual opinion. Of course, you’re probably not aiming for an hour of surface-y, small talk. But small talk opens the door to conversation and helps you get a feel for the other person. One of my favorite ways to kick off a conversation with someone is to pay them a simple compliment like, “I love your shoes!” It puts the other person at ease, plus opens the door to additional conversation, like where they found them. I also like to comment on my surroundings. “I’m done with this weather. Come on, winter!” “These crickets are trying to murder me!” (No? Is that just in San Antonio?)
- Act interested in the other person. Listen for “tell me more” opportunities and act on them. “Oh, you’re a teacher? What grade? What’s that like?” “Does Sparklefoot have any siblings? Oh, a new baby?! How does she feel about being a big sister?” And if all else fails, you can always go the “tell me about yourself” route. Keeping things open-ended avoids making any assumptions that may make them uncomfortable, like asking, “Where do you work?” when they recently lost their job or, “Your husband couldn’t make it?” when they’re actually divorced or widowed.
Master the Art of Conversation By Reacting Thoughtfully
- Allow the other person to actually talk. Find a healthy balance between talking and listening, always listening more than you talk. Nothing is more annoying than sharing something about yourself, only for the other person to make that something about them. After you make a point, pause for a moment to allow them the opportunity to offer their own viewpoint. Avoid interrupting them. And make sure they’re finished talking before you jump back in.
- Read the other person and respond appropriately. You want to hear what they’re saying beyond their words. Pay attention to tone and body language. If their eyes are wandering or glazed over, their tone seems uninterested, or their responses are short, now might not be the best time for them to chitchat. Or maybe you’ve just been talking about yourself for 20 minutes and they can’t get a word in edgewise. Watch for clues and adapt accordingly.
- Watch your own body language. Make eye contact, smile, and avoid crossing your arms over your body. Don’t zone out while they’re talking. And for the love of all that is good and decent, do not casually check your phone throughout the conversation. That’s the fastest and easiest way to tell someone that an electronic device is more interesting than whatever they have to say.
Master the Art of Conversation By Being Mindful of the Topic
- Keep things positive. Save your venting for family and best friends, and keep things lighter with everyone else. Even if your marriage is in shambles, or your boss is a piece of work, that’s a heavy topic for anyone, let alone casual acquaintances.
- Keep topics neutral. That’s not to say you can never discuss sex, religion, or politics, but that there’s a good chance you might offend someone or make them uncomfortable by sharing your opinion. If that’s the kind of conversation you want, then by all means, go for it! But I usually try to get to know someone a bit better before engaging in potentially polarizing topics.
- Prepare ahead of time. Make a mental list of possible conversation topics before attending social events. If you’re having trouble coming up with several different ideas, peruse a news website, read a popular book, or listen to the new band you’ve heard people talking about lately. Consider what questions you might be asked given the setting and reflect on how you would answer. If you’re having difficulty making conversation smooth and comfortable, try practicing a bit with a friend or family member. Ask them for their honest feedback and suggestions.
Wrap It Up
Mastering the art of conversation doesn’t have to be complicated, and doesn’t even require you to become an extrovert. By following a few steps to get the conversation rolling, reacting thoughtfully to the other person, and always being mindful of the topic, you’ll feel like a natural in no time!
What tips have helped you to master the art of conversation? Be sure to share in the comments!
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