Jun 7

Reading all the conversation tips available in books and online, it would be easy to get the idea that there’s an endless amount of conversation skills to be mastered. That in turn might lead a person to feel they could never get to the point where they’ll be able to string together a sentence, let alone have an enjoyable conversation.

The fact is that millions of enjoyable conversation happen all the time without the participants being aware of what they’re doing, just as a lot of people, for example, enjoy taking photographs, and sometimes take a good one.

The fact is, though, that it’s possible to improve those skills. All skills, in any field, can be improved.

In conversation, the main skills to concentrate on are the following :-

 

1) Listening
2) Body language
3) Getting into the right frame of mind
3a) Introducing yourself
3b) Conversation starters
4) Conversation topics – the old standbys and other more tailored themes
5) Developing the conversation
5a) Using the big six questions
5b) establishing common ground
5c) jumping and hopping topics to take the conversation in unusual directions
6) self-monitoring
7) monitoring your conversation partner’s responses, both spoken and posture
8) knowing when to exit
9) Knowing how to exit
Not so many, and not so scary when you see them all listed like that, are they?

 

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May 8

There are many things you should never do in a conversation. Here are 10 tips on behaviours to avoid: 

  1. Go into great detail about the twists and turns in the last novel you read or the last movie you saw, or tell them all the funny parts.
  2. Use three letter abbreviations from your job. Sentences like ‘And we performed the FLA work and passed the MPLs back in record time’ may sound impressive, but will mean nothing to your listener. A baffled listener is a bored or annoyed listener, and they will think you are not a skilled conversationalist
  3. Name drop, unless it’s the name of a truly famous person. It’s okay to say things like ‘You’ll never guess who I saw today–Elvis!’ but ‘Pete Sampson handed the project to Don Aprochon, and Don told me Pete wants me to come on board.’
  4. Use words from work. Depending on the line of work your in, you’ll be exposed to a variety of jargon and perhaps metaphors. For example, talking about a ‘raft of measures’, ‘promulgating’, ’singing from the same hymn sheet’, and ‘picking up the ball and running with it’ may be normal in your workplace, but will probably make you sound pretentious to any listener who doesn’t work in the same environment. There’s a touch of Emperor’s New Clothes about that kind of behaviour…and remember what happened to the Emperor.
  5. Use slang, unless you’re talking with people who also use that slang. It will make you sound lazy, or unimaginative
  6. Laugh at your own jokes. Ok, sometimes the joke is so funny, you can be forgiven for laughing, but most times, a simple smile is best
  7. Laugh at things you say that aren’t really jokes at all. You’ll be seen as  nervous.
  8. Use your fingers to draw inverted commas in the air. Simply say ‘in inverted commas’ instead.
  9. Emphasize a certain word in the hope that that will make it funny. This is an attempt at sarcasm, and while sarcasm can be extremely amusing at times (whether or not it is the lowest form of wit) it shouldn’t need highlighting with extra vocal emphasis.
  10. Talk to yourself. Yes, some people do this. They are thinking aloud, and obviously haven’t given enough thought to what it was they wanted to say. It doesn’t need pointing out that your listener will be baffled, and pretty soon, irritated if you keep doing this. And you’ll get a reputation for being eccentric.

This list is not exhaustive, and requires a certain mastery of conversation skills to both be aware that you have slipped into one of these habits, or, to prevent you from wandering into this territory in the first place. The real conversation tips to take away here are to always monitor the effect of what you’re saying on your listener and never assume that you’re being fascinating. Avoid doing the above ten things, and your conversation skills will be improved automatically.

Jul 6

If you’re at a dinner party, it sometimes happens that the conversation can be a little stilted, especially when people don’t know each other so well.

The conversation topics will revolve around a neutral subject such as work, and the energy levels will be low. It will almost seem like an interview is going on, with one person asking a few questions, and nodding but not seeming truly interested in the answers being given. And the answers will sound a little superficial, too.

One way to raise the energy levels is by introducing a game. Anyone who has ever been at a party where a game has been played will have noticed that the participants become a lot more animated afterwards, and levels of formality between them drop considerably. Because they’ve had fun together, it’s as if they were old friends.

There are three types of game to play:

1) Word games: These would include guessing games like Twenty Questions, or memory games, like I Went To Market And I Bought, where everyone has to remember what everyone before them has purchased before adding an item of their own. (A variation on this is the game Truly, Madly, Deeply played by the actors in the movie of the same name)

2) Puzzles: these would include those Mensa-influenced puzzles about things like  a man found dead with a parcel in a field, surrounded by snow or mud with no footprints in it – how did he die? Or riddles like the Man on his way to St Ives. There are clever puzzles that look like they’re mathematical problems, too, but in fact the numbers refer to something else: a crude example would be 0,7,7,3 and the next number would be 4, because when you look at them upside down they  spell HELLO

3) Physical games like charades, or Pictionary .  

 

It’s best to start with the first two kinds before moving onto physical games. After people have smiled and laughed a few times, they become much more open to the idea of doing more active things.

Time will fly while these activities are in progress, and w

hen normal conversation resumes, the topics will be a lot livelier.

For more on the key conversation skills, go here

 

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Jul 2

One of the conversation skills that doesn’t make it into the top 10 is realism.

By that, I mean you sometimes have to accept the fact that you can’t turn every interaction into a mini party. Some conversations are going to seem like awful hard work, and some are never going to get past the small talk phase.

There are many reasons why this could happen: maybe the other person is dull, unadventurous, unimaginative, in the wrong mood, tired, has a completely different sense of humour to yours so doesn’t get your jokes (and you don’t appreciate theirs either) or their personality and yours clash (whether mildly or strongly).

The fact is, you can’t get on with everyone, and accepting that fact is one aspect of being realistic. When you’ve had a less than fantastic conversation, though, the second half of that realism is to conduct a short analysis of why?

Was it shyness on the other person’s part? Did they simply seem to dislike you, or be suspicious of you? Perhaps they suspected you had motives other than friendliness?

More importantly, what could you do to make the conversation go better next time? Learning and improving in this way are part of the conversation skills set

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Jun 29

 

A little advance work will help tremendously if you feel you need help developing conversation topics.
Here’s an example of what I mean: one of the classic conversation topics is the job that people do. And one of the core conversation skills is taking a response to a question you’ve asked and developing it, preferably taking it in an unusual direction. (An unusual direction being one where your conversation partner will have to exercise a little imagination and, hopefully, humour)
So let’s imagine you’re going to a party and you know there will be a mix of people from different walks of life there. Maybe there will be teachers, salesmen, interior decorators, car mechanics, nurses, writers, farmers, fitness trainers, just to think of a few. If you’re worried about being able to talk to them, you can do two things.

The first is to contact a few days in advance anyone you are lucky enough to already know who does similar work, and ask him or her about their daily life, and the biggest problems they face.
Then ask the same questions at the party, and work in the fact that you have a friend who does something similar, and rthey told you that their experience is etc, etc.

This works both with total strangers and with old friends who have never told you this stuff before. People love to talk about problems and possible solutions.

An additional benefit for you is that you get to contact old friends in advance and catch up with them, while listening to their unusual stories.
 The second approach is to ask yourself (if you don’t know anybody in those fields) those questions, and use your imagination in answering them. What could go wrong in the life of a car mechanic, for example? Or a chef?
 
The third approach, if you’re meeting someone for the first time and without any warning (for example, they’re sitting next to you on a long journey, and you decide to exercise your conversation skills) is to ask them outright.
 
Be sure to frame the question in a way that doesn’t sound too weird — make it sound as if  you like to collect anecdotes — ‘I always ask people this: what was the strangest thing and what’s the funniest thing that ever happened to you in the work place?’
Bear in mind, you’ll get asked the same questions, so have answers prepared from your own daily job.
One further conversation skill is necessary, though, and that is knowing when to steer the conversation elsewhere should the answers get depressing or anger-filled. Otherwise, the mood and energy of the conversation will plummet. That’s why asking about the most amusing thing second is a good idea.

 

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Jun 24

 

Monitoring your effect on people is an important social skill. If people like you they will treat you quite differently than if they are indifferent to you, and a completely different behaviour will be evident if they thoroughly dislike you.
They make these decisions primarily at a subconscious level, and base them on your actions, and also on the conversations they have with you. Since alientating people is not usually a desirable thing, it becomes important to be aware of the effect we have on people and adjust our behaviour as needs be to create the best impression. One area where we can definitely control the outcome is in our conversations.

 

One way to tell how other people feel about us is by observing their body language.  Arms folded across their chest, and (if they are standing) legs crossed too, mean they are not relaxed. Perhaps their body is turned away from you at a 45 degree angle, and their eyes are scanning the surrounding area. These are signals that the other person is wanting to escape. If their eyes are not taking in the area behind you, they may be defocussed or pointed down, rather than looking squarely at you.  
Causes:
One cause could be your proximity. In other words, it may simply be that you are standing too close to them.
Another reason would be that you are a tactile person, but they don’t like being touched. 
A third reason could be that you are being a little over-enthusiastic, or they feel that maybe you are laughing a little too loud at situations that simply aren’t funny.

 

A further reason could be that the conversation topic is simply not too their taste: maybe you are going into too many details about your job, for example. This is likely to bore anyone, unless your job is a gossip columnist.

 

What to do: 
One of the most important conversation skills is required to remedy this: observation and fine-tuning. 

 

If you feel you are standing too close, or touching a little too often, raise the matter and apologise — ‘Sorry, I see I’m invading your personal space. It’s a bad habit of mine.’ Then move back a step. Most likely the other person will say something like ‘Not at all.’ But they’ll be glad you did, and their whole body will relax too.

 

If it’s the subject matter, do the same — apologise with a comment such as like ‘But anyway, I’ve talked long enough about this. Let’s change the subject.’ Then use a conversation starter question, or ask a question about them.

 

If done early enough, these measures may rescue the conversation. If not, don’t take it personally. See it for what it is — a chance to improve your conversation skills.
To sum up, while you are having a conversation, monitor its progress. if you feel your conversation partner is not having a good time,  ask yourself why. Then either change the topic or change what you’re doing.

 

 

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Jun 23

 

It may come as a surprise to learn there are professional conversationalists, but there are, and these conversation tips will help you think like them, so you’re not stuck for conversation starters ever again.

Who are they? There are two in particular very prominent occupations  – game show hosts and hairdressers, but they aren’t the only ones.


First, hairdressers.  Ask them for their best conversation tips, they’d probably tell you they like to keep the chat focused on the customer, and  cover topics that affect most people, because most people have an answer to at least one of the following -


  •  Work
    • what’s your job, 
    • how do you like it? 
    • what does it entail? 
  • Or vacations – 
    • last vacation was to where? 
    • Next planned vacation is to where? 
    • How long for? 
  • Health: how has the customer been since their last visit? 
  • Any family/ kids? 
    • How old are they? 
    • What class are they in at school
    • What do they want to be when they grow up? 
  • Hobbies and interests: what does the customer get up to in his or her spare time?


Hairdressers do this not because they are windbags and anxious to know every last detail of your private life, but because they know that  many people don’t like silence. And since a trip to the hairdresser’s can last a while, chatting helps the time pass, not only for the customer but also for the hairdresser.


Game show hosts have much less time to exercise their conversation skills, because the audience want to see the quiz or game actually happen. But the host needs to relax contestants, who are  suffering from nerves about being on TV. The host also needs to get the contestant used to answering questions in studio conditions–the unnaturally bright lighting alone can feel intimidating, to say the least–so they don’t just freeze up, because that

doesn’t make great viewing.  


Also, the question and answer session  turns anonymous faces  into human beings, which means  the viewers at home root for the contestants. This emotional attachment helps the game show gain popularity.


 If you asked the hosts for their conversation tips, they’d most likely tell you to keep the questions simple, to really focus on the person you’re talking to, listen to their answers for anything you can use to steer the conversation in an unusual or humorous direction, but most importantly, to make them feel like they are the most important person in the world while you are talking to them. 


Next time you watch a game show, pay attention to the type of  ice-breaker question being asked. It will always be something the contestant can answer easily. Even in The Weakest Link, where the idea seems to be to humiliate the contestants, the conversation starter questions before and during the game don’t pose any real challenge. On other shows,  a typical question might be what they will do if they win — especially if there’s big money to be won. 


So next time you’re in a situation where you’re wondering what to talk about, think about the last time you were at the hairdresser’s or watched a game show; then take a leaf from their book of conversation skills.



 

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Jun 17

Disclaimer: The following is for entertainment purposes only, and is based purely on what I’ve researched and my own observations: I make no claim to being a qualified diet or nutrition expert.
That said, let’s begin

There will probably be a few raised eyebrows at the title of these conversation tips, but bear with me. I’m not saying the act of conversation itself uses up calories, but rather that when most people eat and converse, they consume their food in a different manner to when they eat alone. 

By eating meals silently, they’re possibly missing out on an opportunity to eat their food in a manner which will lead it to digest better, and leave them feeling full for longer periods of time. Of course, this won’t always be the case for every person– it depends on how they eat when they’re alone. But let’s consider the way most people seem to eat most of the time — in other words, at breakfast, lunch, and often at dinner time, too :-
  • they eat quickly
  • they eat alone
  • they often eat on the fly, without a pause, while driving, working, using the Internet, or watching TV.

 

In other words, they pay little attention to the food itself and they wolf it down. 

 

Now consider how you eat if you’re conducting a conversation: because it’s considered rude to speak and eat  at the same time,  we take a mouthful of food, and then talk. 

 

If the conversation topics are especially interesting to us, we may forget the food at times, sit back, pay attention, and eat a little at a time. The overall effect is that it takes us a longer to finish our meal. In fact many people don’t.

 

Is eating more slowly better for weight loss than eating rapidly? First of all, consider that from the time our food reaches our stomach, our bodies wait for twenty minutes and only then sends a message to our brains that we are full. When we bolt our food down, we’re usually still inside that twenty minute time slot, so we usually still feel hungry when we finish, and eat some more, even though we can feel the food going down.

 

When we take our time, though (like when we are having a conversation), that twenty minutes elapses, and our brains receive the signal; consequently we don’t feel so inclined to overeat. A further benefit is that because we are eating in smaller chunks, our bodies get to process the food in a more leisurely way. It’s the difference between having a crowd arrive at your house in one go, compared with a steady stream of visitors.

 

If, in addition (and this is not one of the main conversation skills), we take our time and chew our food properly first, then that too will help the digestion process, and, so I understand, the appetite suppression response.
If there’s one conversation tip to take from this, it’s the following: when you have the opportunity, eat with others — especially at work.  Exercise those conversation skills, enjoy a leisurely meal, and have a chat. Hopefully one pleasant benefit will be that you’ll feel full longer, which will lead to less snacking. And less snacking has to mean losing a little weight, surely?

 

 

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Jun 14

All the experts tell you — ask lots of questions, listen to the answers, let the other person do all the talking — in short, do anything but don’t hog the conversation. Monopolizing the conversation, they will tell you, will bore your listeners and make you appear rude and insensitive — unless you have the wit and repartee of Oscar Wilde. But the fact is, in some situations it is absolutely the right thing to do.

Elsewhere on this blog, two good examples are mentioned — job interviews, and when you want to help along the sale of something like a house, or a car, or anything else that’s so expensive, your buyers need putting at their ease.

But there are other times too when you will be expected to do most of the talking, such as when you’ve done something spectacular, and are the guest of honour at a gathering. As a wild example, let’s suppose you’ve been doing volunteer work amongst the endangered penguins of Antarctica, and on your return home, your local church asks you to give a short presentation and then mix with the guests afterwards.

The presentation is, of course, a lecture, and you wouldn’t expect it to proceed like a conversation, unless you invite questions from the audience, and even then, the situation would have more in common with an interview than a chat.

Real conversation skills come come into play afterwards, when you are rubbing shoulders with the guests and amplifying what you just said. It’s here that you’ll still be expected to do most of the talking — or monopolizing the conversation — simply because the gathering revolves around your experiences. The most obvious skill to bring into play would be preparation. In other words, think and prepare in advance, and have a few anecdotes ready that you didn’t reveal in your talk: amusing or weird or emotionally moving events. Or you prepare by only revealing part of such experiences in the presentation, and expanding on them afterwards. And at the point of retelling these held-in-reserve experiences, you draw upon a second conversation skill — adding colour and depth by amplifying the emotion as you look inside yourself and your memory and relive the event.

There will be other, more common, occasions where you’ll be the centre of attention (your wedding day, graduation day, at the birth of your first child). By doing a little preparation in advance, you will have a great time, and impress people with your relaxed, seemingly spontaneous, conversational style

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Jun 13

If the title of this piece is a statement of the obvious to you, that’s great. If not, bear with me, and I’ll show you what I mean.
Suppose you’re selling your house.  If market conditions are such that houses are not selling immediately, perhaps you’ll have to do so many times. Conversation skills are very important in this kind of situation, because they can help your prospective buyers imagine themselves living in your house, having a wonderful life.
You can achieve that by making them feel relaxed, to feel that there’s an atmosphere of warmth about your home. 
Imagine it’s you that wants to buy a house, and you look around three houses. They are identical in price, location, condition, everything. Even the decoration is the same.
 In the first house, the owner, who is a very nice person, feels to you shy  and awkward. It’s as if you were meeting a tax official. Their conversation skills are confined to simply showing you to each room,  then delivering dates and statistics about facts on repairs, improvements they have made, and the date the house was built.
In house number two, the owner simply tells you to wander around, and then ask them questions at the end. When you do, there’s a chat, but nothing special, and again, you feel like you’ve intruded.

In house number three,  the owners make an effort. They greet you warmly, welcome you to their home, they tell you why they are selling, and let you know they’ve  had  a great time living in this house, and will be sorry to go. They show you round each room,  and making jokes about what the teenage children have done to the place. They tell you that they’ve found the kitchen perfect for their needs, they ask you about your circumstances. They make you feel like this home will fit your needs.

 Then they show you the outside, and tell you about evenings and barbecues they’ve had there.

They may even ask you if you’d like a drink, and invite you to sit down if the conversation lasts longer than a few minutes. 

Now, if all three houses were equal  which do you most want to buy? Most people would probably go for house number three. Not because the buyers liked the house more, though it would feel that way to them, but because they liked the owners more. And tall the sellers did was make the buyers feel good by using basic conversation skills.

There are other situations you may find yourself in where conversation skills can make a difference, but you wouldn’t actually say you were having a conversation. A classic example is in job interviews.

In short, the point of this set of conversation tips is that good conversation skills will help you get more out of life, and sometimes make life easier for you, without you realising it.

 

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