10 Ways to Have a Better Conversation

Updated on December 11, 2017
Robert P Sullivan profile image

Robert Sullivan is a self-published author, blogger, social media manager, and more.

The art of conversation is quickly becoming muddled with the advancement of technology and the impatience of the population. However, conversation is possibly the best tool at your disposal for increasing the value of both your social life and career. Furthermore, being able to strike up a conversation with anyone allows you to expand your social circles quickly and easily. So take a look at these 10 tips to have a better conversation.

Celeste Headlee has some pretty good points on this subject.

1. Listen

All too often we go into a conversation thinking about what we are going to say. But you have to remember that half of a conversation should be from the other person’s mouth. If you really want to keep the things interesting, you are going to have to listen and respond to your partner. Listening also shows respect to the person you are talking with, so if you want to maintain a good impression, then make sure to be fully engaged in the conversation at hand.

Also keep in mind that conversations rarely stay on a specific track. If you have some detailed plan about what you are going to discuss, you might find yourself a bit frustrated when the other person keeps trying to pull away from topic. It’s a much better idea to relax, and see where things go.

2. Don’t Get Preachy

There’s a time and a place for strongly voicing your opinions, and a casual conversation is not one of them. Don’t get me wrong, if things naturally gravitate toward something you feel passionate about, then by all means talk about it, but don’t make the mistake of shoving it down someone’s throat. There are few quicker ways to end a pleasant conversation than to aggressively try to change people’s minds. This is the reason why people tend to steer clear of religion and politics when talking to anyone other than their closest friends and family.

3. Put the Phone Down!

In today’s world people look to their phones for social interaction, and it’s no question as to why. With social media, social games, texting, tweeting, etc… it’s no wonder that it’s become a major part of our lives. However, interpersonal conversations are rarely benefitted by the addition of any of these things, so do yourself a favor and put the phone down.

Seriously, put it down, turn it to silent, and leave it somewhere you can’t get to it. There are few things more annoying than trying to have a conversation with someone who is completely distracted by their phone. Not only that, but there are tons of people who find it outright disrespectful.

This doesn’t stop at phones either, they are just one of the biggest offenders. The real concept is to be completely present in the conversation. So you should get rid of all distractions, not just the technology based ones. If you can do that, then you’ll be leagues ahead of those people who refuse to put in the effort.

I'm paying attention... No really I am.
I'm paying attention... No really I am.

Seriously, put it down, turn it to silent, and leave it somewhere you can’t get to it. There are few things more annoying than trying to have a conversation with someone who is completely distracted by their phone. Not only that, but there are tons of people who find it outright disrespectful.

This doesn’t stop at phones either, they are just one of the biggest offenders. The real concept is to be completely present in the conversation. So you should get rid of all distractions, not just the technology based ones. If you can do that, then you’ll be leagues ahead of those people who refuse to put in the effort.

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4. Use Open-ended Questions (Not Yes or No Questions)

This is actually two parts. The first is when you ask question, make sure that the person has room to elaborate. For example, if you ask a person “Do you like books?” their only answers are “yes” or “no.” That doesn’t leave a lot of room to keep the conversation flowing. A better question would be “What kind of books do you like?” Do you see how this can lead into a whole string of dialogue?

The second thing to remember is to ask questions relevant to the person you are talking to. Nobody wants a one sided conversation, if you’re taking every opportunity to talk about yourself or the things you like, then you aren’t going to garner much respect from the other person. Showing your interest in what someone else has to say on the other hand, is a great way to keep them engaged.

5. Don’t Interrupt

This is a bit of a throwback to the first tip (listening) but this one is particularly hard for a lot of people to grasp. Interrupting someone shows that you think less of what they have to say, than what you have to. There’s a reason this used to be widely considered rude, because quite frankly, it is.

There are a few exceptions to this though. If you find yourself talking with a particularly aggressive speaker, then they may not give you the chance to get a word in edgewise. There’s no way around it in this kind of situation, you just have to interrupt them and hope for the best.

6. Don’t be Afraid of Not Knowing Something

Too many people let their ego get in the way when trying to have a conversation. Don’t do this. Here’s the thing, you don’t have to convince people that you are some kind of super-human, so if you don’t know something, don’t be afraid to say it. Humility is actually a very admirable trait, one which few people attempt to show nowadays.

As an added bonus, sometimes the other person will know a great deal about the subject, and more often than not people are willing to share a wealth of information, especially if they believe that it will positively impact your life. So take it to heart, and never be afraid to say “I don’t know.”

7. Don’t Make Assumptions

There’s this little thing called the curse of knowledge.

The curse of knowledge is a cognitive bias that occurs when an individual, communicating with other individuals, unknowingly assumes that the others have the background to understand.

If you just assume that someone knows and has experienced everything you do and have, then don’t get surprised when they get thoroughly confused.

It also can cause some serious problems if you assume they feel the same way you do about something, just because they share your view about something else. This is one of the easiest ways to offend someone, so if you’re not sure where someone stands on a particular subject, don’t be afraid to ask.

8. Don’t Go too Far into the Little Details

You might remember the date of every battle in the revolutionary war, but that doesn’t mean it’s important to what you have to say. Going too far into detail is a great way to get off topic, and it really it isn’t interesting to the bulk of the public.

A good rule of thumb is to only add detail if it’s critically important to what you are trying to express. If it doesn’t serve a purpose in your overall discussion, then why bother saying it at all?

9. Know a Few Common Topics

This is probably half the reason sports are so popular. They give people something common to talk about, even if it has nothing personal to offer. But that's ok, becasue things like open the door to more serious conversations down the road.

Think if these like an icebreaker, they may not be your cup of tea, but almost anybody will talk to you about the weather, and that's how you get your foot in the door.


10. Know When to End the Conversation

Some people will talk your ear off for hours and wish they didn’t have to stop any time soon, whereas others only have a few minutes worth of patience, and if you don’t end things at the right time you can leave a horrible impression.

Pay attention to the person you are conversing with, if they start to show any visible or audible signs of discomfort, then graciously offer them a way out. Something as simple as thanking them for their time and explaining that you have other things to do, can keep things from turning sour, which makes your new contact far more likely to turn into a meaningful relationship down the road.

If a person looks like this, you should let them go.
If a person looks like this, you should let them go.

In the end, there is only one key rule, respect the other person. Whether it be their opinion or time. Respecting them shows that you care, and caring who people are is what makes for the best conversations.

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    • letstalkabouteduc profile image

      McKenna Meyers 2 months ago from Bend, OR

      This is a wonderful topic to think about during this holiday season when we go to parties and need to strike up conversations with people we don't know. As an introvert, I dread these situations and always look for ways to make it tolerable. I think it helps to remember that many other people in the room are also struggling. As the sexual harassment claims come to light, there's another layer of awkwardness—whether to hug, kiss, etc. Thanks for the valuable advice!

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