10 Tips To Having A Great Conversation

Ever think about the last “convo” you had with that grocery store clerk? How about a conversation in the classroom or at the office? Or even with your own kids? Ever feel it could have gone better-maybe less awkward or, perhaps, a little less one-sided? Conversation is truly an art form and the skills required to engage in meaningful “talk” are certainly not ingrained in us at birth. These skills are fermented like fine wine over years and years of careful observation and interaction from infancy up through adulthood. Some people, (myself included), spend much of their adult lives tying to perfect the art of conversation in one way or another (I still remind myself to look people in the eye when THEY are talking to me…eek). Want to stay away from those sour grapes that spoil any good conversation? We have the top ten when it comes to such conversational queries.

Open your Ears… Not Your mouth.

My mother would always say that we have one mouth and two ears for a good reason and, of course, I would let out an ever defiant “hmph” at the thought of such an obvious statement—where would you put a second mouth on your face? This never made so much sense to me when I was a child as it does now, in my adulthood. There is a definitive difference between hearing and actually comprehending what someone is saying. In an article posted by Henrik Edberg on the ten mistakes in conversation, he simply states:

“Don’t be like most people. Don’t just wait eagerly for your turn to talk. Put your own ego on hold. Learn to really listen to what people actually are saying. When you start to really listen, you’ll pick up on loads of potential paths in the conversation. But avoid yes or no type of questions as they will not give you much information”.

Truly words to live by. Below are two quick examples of how you can apply this “listen without lips” rule

Many times, through play, art or in conversation alone, children will explain their emotions, and give plausible reasoning for what it is they are doing. However, many times, we aren’t truly listening. Look at the two sample situations below and try these steps the next time you’re having a conversation with an adult or a child:

Let’s say you’re at the library with a group of children or maybe your own child when, quite suddenly, a child screams so loud that you begin to get those “looks” from other adults in the area. If a child states that he or she purposefully screamed inside of the library, instead of reprimanding ask meaningful questions:

  • Why did you feel you needed to yell?
  • Were you upset, excited?
  • What was something you think may have worked better?

When speaking with an adult who is explaining how they just returned from a trip to Florida, for example, try to ask inquisitive questions:

  • What part of Florida did you visit?
  • What places in Florida did you see that you enjoyed the best?

Inquiry versus Interrogation!
Too many questions…yes, there is such a thing in a conversation. You want to be engaged in the other person’s ideas but to a certain extent. I’ve caught myself doing this one too many times in an effort to ensure that my friends feel I’m truly listening/care. So, what’s the big deal? “If you ask too many questions the conversation can feel like a bit of an interrogation. Or like you don’t have that much too contribute”; Edberg warns. “One alternative is to mix questions with statements”. Continuing the conversation above you could skip the question and say:

  • Yeah, it’s great to just get out with your friends and relax over the weekend. We like to take a six-pack out to the park and play some Frisbee golf.
  • Nice. We went out in my friend’s boat last month and I tried these new lures from Sakamura. The blue ones were really great.

(Awkward) Silence is not Golden
Ever hit that point in a conversation where there’s that weird “uncomfortable silence”? Edberg describes the situation occurring when you’re in conversation with someone you just meet or when the usual few topics are exhausted and an awkward silence or mood might appear. For me, this situation ranks up there with nails to a chalkboard… it’s just awful. What can you do to avoid such conversational collapses? Edberg describes three quick solutions:

  • Leil Lowndes once said: “Never leave home without reading the newspaper”. If you’re running out of things to say, you can always start talking about the current news.
  • Start new conversations with about something in your surroundings. For example, comment on the aquarium at the party, or that one girl’s cool Halloween-costume or the host’s mp3-playlist.
  • Assume rapport. If you feel nervous or weird when meeting someone for the first time assume rapport. What that means is that you imagine how you feel when you meet one of your best friends. And pretend that this new acquaintance is one of your best friends. And you’ll greet and start talking to this new person with a smile and a friendly and relaxed attitude. It might sound a bit loopy or too simple. But it really works.

How do you say…
Most people will agree that action is far superior to the spoken word but what about an individual’s tone? Believe it or not, what you say pales in comparison to how you say it in the wide world of conversation. Tone and body language are a key component to conversational success. As Edberg states, “A change in these habits can make a big difference since your voice and body language is a vital part of communication. Some things to think about:

  • Slowing down: It will make it much easier for people to listen and for you actually get what you are saying across to them.
  • Speaking up. Don’t be afraid to talk as loud as you need to for people to hear you.
  • Speaking clearly. Don’t mumble.
  • Speak with emotion. No one listens for that long if you speak with a monotone voice. Let your feelings be reflected in your voice.
  • Using pauses. Adding a small pause between thoughts or sentences creates a bit of tension and anticipation.
  • Learn about improving your body language as it can make your delivery a lot more effective.

Hogging the Spot-Light
If anything, I’ve witnessed this more times than I care to remember… not mentioning anyone in particular in my family… but it’s a nightmare during the holidays around those who never seem to “shut down” to allow others to talk. Edberg states that its best if everyone involved in a conversation gets their time in the spotlight. Don’t interrupt someone when they are telling some anecdote or their view on what you are discussing to divert the attention back to yourself” My personal favorite: Edberg suggests not

“…hijacking their story about skiing before it’s finished to share your best skiing-anecdote… Find a balance between listening and talking….Don’t be a “Mister (or Mrs.) Right”

Is it better to be right than sacrifice a good time? I would rather be wrong and have the best time of my life then walk away ruining a fun evening. “Often a conversation is not really a discussion. It’s a more of a way to keep a good mood going. No one will be that impressed if you “win”. Edberg further suggests that it’s best to sit back, relax and enjoy the good mood.

That was Awkwaaard!
Have you ever been in a conversation with a person whom you just met and they bring up one of those topics you would consider “taboo?” Like how at their last teaching job they hated their administration or that their child bites them all of the time? What do you say? Avoid being that person- Like now. Edberg gives these topics the conversational cut-off:

  • bad health or relationships,
  • your crappy job or boss,
  • Serial killers,
  • technical lingo that only you and one other guy knows

Basically, “anything that sucks the positive energy out of the conversation are topics to steer clear from”.

You might also want to save religion and politics for conversations with your friends.

Yawn! How to Avoid Being boring
Have you ever had the feeling like you’re heading toward a conversational crash as your discussion goes from upbeat to a “dead duck” in the water? Be aware of your surroundings and the people you’re with. Edberg states that you should “Always be prepared to drop a subject when you start to bore people”. Edberg also suggest to focus on the positive stuff and to steer clear from your terrible boss or any other complaints.

Best quote from Edberg on this topic: “One good way to have something interesting to say is simply to lead an interesting life”. He continues by quoting Dale Carnegie:

“You can make more friends in two months by becoming really interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you. Which is just another way of saying that the way to make a friend is to be one.”

Edberg suggests that you don’t cling to one subject and that you should open up a bit! You will come across like a person who can talk about many things with ease.

Convos are a Two-Way Street

One of my all-time favorite songs is “Brave” by Sara Bareilles Why? It absolutely speaks to all of us out there who have ever felt like they shouldn’t or couldn’t speak up. Quite literally, say what you want to say. Don’t be a bystander in a conversation. “If someone shares an experience, open up too and share one of your experiences. Don’t just stand there nodding and answering with short sentences”. Edberg continues to say that you need to be proactive and be the first to open up and invest in the conversation. You can do this by way is by replacing some questions with statements. It makes you less passive and makes take a sort of stand.

Adding too Little…
What should you do when you’re in the midst of a conversation that you have absolutely NOTHING to add to? Edberg suggests listening and being really interested in what the others are saying. Basically, use all of the above suggestions! Here’s a recap:

  • Be aware of your surroundings and comment on those if appropriate.
  • Make a statement that relates.
  • Change conversational topics if it seems appropriate.
  • Develop your personal knowledge bank-expand your view of interesting things in the world.
  • Read the newspapers, social media and keep an eye on “water cooler” topics.
  • Work on your tone and body language-assume rapport.
Relax! You Got This Conversation Thing!

Lastly, take it slow! Edberg suggests that you “try two or three of the most important things in your own conversational skills that need improving and work from there!” Take your time and be aware of the changes these ideas have in your conversations. The idea is to keep working on your conversational focus marks for three to four weeks and, then, voila! Edberg suggests that your new habits will start to pop up spontaneously when you’re in a conversation!

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