Conversation should be a two-way street. We often assume it is, but how many of us really listen with the intention of learn something? Instead, we frequently think about what we want to say next when we should be listening. When we do that, we aren’t really listening.
Radio host Celeste Headlee talks about how to listen and why it’s important.
Small talk is an important function of everyday life, both in our business and personal lives. Some people are uncomfortable conversing with people – especially strangers – while others see it as a waste of time. As with many aspects of public speaking and conversation in general, understanding the person you want to talk with is a great place to begin.
Look at conversation as a chance to learn something you didn’t know before. If you are at a meeting or a party, go out of your way to say hello to people you don’t know instead of sticking with ones you do. Depending on the setting and the intention of the gathering, ask about their work interest and what brought them into the field. Asking questions opens up the floor for more conversation and gives you an opportunity to learn more about the other person.
Show genuine interest
Making conversation is easier and more fun if you really want to know more about a person. Ask follow-up questions and share common experiences you have had. Try and focus on what the other person is saying rather than what you plan to say next. People can usually tell whether a person truly cares about what they have to say or whether they are just waiting their turn to talk.
Don’t dominate the conversation
Pay attention to how much you are talking. Conversation means that each person is speaking for about half of the time and listening for the other half. If your conversation partner is having trouble getting a word in, pull back and allow her some room to talk. Remember that you are in a dialogue, not giving a speech. Conversely, don’t be shy about speaking up. Conversation runs both ways!
Be aware of the setting
Being aware of the purpose of the gathering will help you determine what kinds of topics and questions are appropriate. If you are at a business gathering, use caution in the kinds of questions you ask. Don’t overshare, especially when discussing your personal life with people you don’t know. Hearing too much about problems in your family can make people very uncomfortable and cause them to avoid you in the future.
Stay abreast of the news
Reading widely on current events, especially within your industry or personal interests, will help you think of discussion tops. It also encourages other people to tell you about their own interests and it gives you something to share when you meet new people in any setting.
Most importantly, don’t try to be someone you’re not. People want to get to know you, not someone you’re trying to be. Relax and view small talk as something to look forward to by wanting to learn more about the people you meet.
Try incorporating one of these tips next time you are in an unfamiliar setting with people you don’t know.
Let me know how it goes and, if you have any conversation tips to add, I would love to hear from you so leave a comment or question below.