Conversation isn’t about proving a point; true conversation is about going on a journey with the people you are speaking with.
~ Ricky Maye
In life there are many conversations to be had. With colleagues. With family. With friends. With strangers. Or, are there? With the presence of so many mobile devices in conversation spaces, lots of people “opt out” of conversation opportunities by being hooked into technology. It makes me wonder, is making conversation becoming a lost art?
Learning the art of conversation
When learning, it is always good to have models to aspire to. We need to hear good conversations and we need to practise our own. We have to be available for this. People who withdraw behind the noise-cancelling earphones or ear buds connected to appliances, miss “hearing” conversations going on around them and making spontaneous or random connections that are possible.
Is conversation really important?
I think it is. Conversation is a an important form of communication. It serves as a mechanism for interacting, for sharing ideas and building rapport. It is the glue of human connection and how we seek out a commonness of understanding. It helps us consider different perspectives, from which values of respect and tolerance can be fostered. Besides that, it’s fun!
Every good conversation starts with good listening.
Tips for becoming a good conversationalist
- Break the ice
Inviting someone to tell you about themselves can be done with phrases like: “Tell me about yourself” or “What brings you here today?”
By keeping this broad, the respondent can choose how much and what they share with you. The often asked “What do you do?” can sometimes lead to sticky situations if someone is not employed or without formal qualifications. If this makes them uncomfortable, it will make building rapport harder. By making them feel at ease, the conversation has a better chance of flowing.
- Be curious
If you take a genuine interest in the other person, it demonstrates that you want to hear what they are telling you. You can respond to them by demonstrating your understanding of them or their circumstances or ask questions to deepen your understanding. You can also share your own reaction with them – developing that sense of a shared understanding. Being curious may sound easy to do. Being genuinely curious requires you being able to fully “be” in the conversation.
- “Be” in the conversation
To “be” in a conversation, means suspending your own need be heard and being open to listen to the ideas of others. It is about suspending your ego. To really listen, means committing to hearing the other person.
- Watch body language
You don’t have to be an expert in body language to recognise when you are connecting or not. Reasonably consistent eye contact is one thing to observe. A physical stance that is open and turned towards you is another sign of interest and connection. If the reverse is happening, despite your efforts to connect – it may be a sign that the conversation is at an end.
- Practice and diversity
Being able to converse with ease develops with practice. There are lots of opportunities to do this in short bursts – to your neighbour while travelling, with shop assistants in stores, in the lunch room at work. Try to talking to people of all ages and backgrounds – to understand their world a little more.
Developing the art of conversation and being flexible with these skills can have many unexpected spin-offs both personally and professionally. By developing your ease with people will enable them to be at ease too which makes socialising and collaborating so much easier. Won’t you have a go?
Leibowitz, Glenn. 2018. How to master the art of conversation, according to NPR’s Terry Gross, published 28 December 2018 on LinkedIn.