What makes a good conversationalist?
We've all experienced awkward conversations. I just had one at a recent family event and that motivated me to write this post. Eight of us were seated at a luncheon and half the people at the table made the experience uncomfortable. One of the individuals actually fell asleep sitting up to avoid interaction (super awkward!).
I personally love conversing with others and have been comfortable talking to anyone and everyone since I was a toddler. But I recognize that conversations may feel torturous to different individuals.
Whether you are a natural conversationalist like me, or someone who would rather go hide in the bathroom than have to talk to people, here is some advice.
7 helpful hints:
FOCUS, FOCUS, FOCUS
Whether you are on the phone or conversing face to face, try your best to focus and concentrate on the conversation. Treat the person like they are important and don't multi-task or think about something else. If you are busy or distracted, politely excuse yourself from the conversation until you can eliminate the distraction or complete the other task. No one likes to feel like the person they are talking to doesn't really care.
HAVE APPROPRIATE BODY LANGUAGE
If you are in the same room with someone and conversing with them, you need to be conscious of your body language. Depending on the nature of the conversation, you can smile, nod, look empathetic, give them a hug, pat their hand, etc. In all conversations it is important to look at the other person's face so they know you are focusing on them.
People like it when you show interest in them. Whether you are chatting with a relative, friend, stranger, or customer service representative, it is a smart move to ask them questions. With a relative or friend, you can ask them what they've been up to or how they've been feeling. With a stranger you can make small talk about the weather or something around you. With a customer service rep, you can ask them how their day is going. Asking questions about someone shows you care. Some people you talk to may end up going on and on about themselves and in those situations you'll just need to be patient. If they are also good conversationalists, they will ask you questions as well.
LISTEN, DON'T JUST WAIT TO TALK
An effective conversation involves both parties having a chance to talk. If one person dominates the conversation, constantly talking about themselves, the other person may feel irritated or unimportant. You can always learn something when you listen to someone. Respond when people say something to show you're paying attention. You'll miss out if you are just waiting for your turn to talk. And don't change the subject when the other person finishes talking because that is a dead give away that you didn't care what they were saying and were just waiting for "your turn."
AVOID TOUCHY TOPICS
Don't bring up controversial or deeply personal topics such as politics, religion, money, divorce, etc. If the other person insists on discussing these, be pleasant and don't contribute anything that will make others uncomfortable. Or make a joke that you avoid discussing politics and religion and change the subject.
Remember the saying, "He who gossips to you, will gossip of you." People won't trust you if you gossip about others. It is okay to positively say things about other people that are applicable to the conversation but don't say anything about someone when they are not there unless you'd say the same exact thing if they were present. If you have a concern or need to vent about something, pick a close trusted friend or loved one to discuss concerns with and ask them to keep your issues confidential.
Look for the best in the person you are talking to. If they say something dumb, forgive them and move on quickly to another topic. Don't be easily offended. Treat yourself with kindness as well. Don't rehash conversations in your mind after they occur and try to think about what you should have said.