In this article, let’s explore how to have a conversation, make good conversation, and have some interesting times with new and existing friends.
Understanding how to begin and end a conversation is an essential life skill. The ability to hold inspiring, engaging conversations could be the difference between personal and professional mediocrity and the rise to the next level of achievement and experience. Want to know how to hold a conversation and make it work for you and the other person? Read on and enjoy this detailed guide.
How To Have A Conversation
For you to hold a great conversation, you need to know what its basic building blocks are. Most conversations require some work from everyone who participates in it.
You should focus on doing your part of that work. It may seem hard at first, but with some practice, it will become second nature to you. You’ll start to do it without even thinking about it.
Here are the steps to take to have great conversations:
1. Ask conversation-friendly questions
Getting that conversation started is often the most challenging part of the whole process. You have made the approach, you have caught the other person’s eye and now you are ready to speak.
But, what do you say? There are some standard conversation starter questions that can really power forward your conversation, for instance:
- What brings you here?
- How do you know the host?
- How long have you been coming here?
- What is the best food/ drink to enjoy here?
The context of the conversation will help you to make that all-important first step. You are looking for things in common with the other person and at this moment the place you find yourself is the most obvious shared experience.
2. Give answers that spark more conversation
When people ask you questions – don’t give answers that are too short: they can be interpreted as you not really wanting to talk. But also don’t give answers that are too long, that would be a monologue and not a conversation.
Give answers that inspire more conversation. For example, someone asks you “which part of town do you live in?” instead of saying “I live in Stone Oak.” you say “I live in Stone Oak – I just moved here last year, I used to live downtown in an apartment building, but the stairs were too much for my dog so I had to move.” this is just an example. But you gave an amazing answer that will spark more conversation.
Those key information bits will make your answer more interesting.
- “last year” – this makes them think of time, what they did since last year, when did they last moved to a new place
- “downtown” – this will make them wonder which part of downtown you were, whether you prefer to live downtown rather than where you are, all the bars and restaurants and nightlife that is accessible in the downtown area
- “my dog” – you have a dog! Which breed of dog? Maybe they do too, maybe they have a cat. Maybe they used to have a pet, maybe they’re planning to adopt one. Can they see a picture of your dog? Just by saying “my dog” you can spring up so many opportunities for more conversation.
- “had to” means you really care for your dog, and you take its well being very seriously. Just says that you are a caring person. This can make them start to connect with you on an emotional level.
3. Bring up topics you may share an interest in
If the conversation isn’t flowing so well, you will need to think up topics that you could share an interest in with the other person. Everyone understands that fact. They too know that it takes some effort.
If they’re halfway decent people, they’ll appreciate the fact that you’re trying to keep the conversation going and to make it interesting. So, as you talk to someone, make sure you bring up subjects that you suspect they’d be interested in, and that you can discuss for a few minutes.
Remember to talk about the place where the conversation is taking place. Alternatively, if you are at a networking event chat about the subject of the event/talk or about the industry or sector that the event is about.
If you’re with new friends in a restaurant you’ve never been to before, talk about types of cuisines and where they’re from and what you know about the regions the food is from. You can always talk about what is surrounding you.
4. Engage with the topics others bring to the table
The other party did the work, it’s only natural to recognize it- reward the person you are conversing with by expanding on those subjects, listening and being interested.
You want to appear to be engaged by what you say and by your body language, especially if it’s a new friend who doesn’t really know if you’re interested in their company. You need to show that you find them engaging and that they have relevant things to say.
So, when they bring a new subject: share what you know about it; share stories you’ve heard about that subject and even share opinions you have on it.
5. Focus on the conversation, give it your full attention
If you are going to succeed in this conversation, then you are going to have to give the other person your full attention. You cannot be distracted by a message on your phone, an email that has just come in or something that is happening across the room.
You need to give attention to the other person, so you can read the necessary cues and listen for those opportunities to move the conversation forward.
But don’t take it too seriously if it’s casual social talk. Sometimes too much attention on the person talking can backfire. Maybe they’re just shooting the breeze. Be careful not to take everything too literally.
6. Encourage them to talk and be responsive to what they say
When they’re talking, it’s like a performance, be a good spectator or even a cheer-leader for their performance… really? Uh-huh, amazing! Interesting! Yeah! That’s great! That’s interesting! Wow! What?
There is nothing worse than being in a conversation with someone who is completely disinterested. You are literally getting nothing back from the facial expression, the body language, or the responses they give. At this point, you are likely to assume they do not want to talk to you and end the conversation abruptly.
Therefore, when you are talking with a friend, and you genuinely want to continue the conversation, demonstrate your interest with an animated facial expression, gesture and the use of questions to draw out more detail.
Use Emotional Intelligence To Have Better Conversations
So, now let’s go beyond the basic conversation techniques. As you start meeting more and more successful and socially active people, you’ll want to your conversation skills to be even sharper and more effective.
Using emotional intelligence in conversation is a great way to do that.
Let’s review the four parts of emotional intelligence and how they apply to your social conversations.
How do you feel?
Be aware of how you’re feeling as you enter into conversations and as you socialize with people. How you feel will influence how pleasant you are to be around, how you talk (tone of voice, body language), what you talk about, and even how you interpret what others say to you.
For example, someone can tell you “You’re working a lot these days !” and you could interpret that as a positive (“you’re ambitious!”) or negative ( “you’re no fun“) comment, depending on how you feel.
If you take into account how you feel, you immediately become a better conversationalist. When you make conversation you’re aware of how your feelings are influencing it and counter your instincts to impose these on the words of the other person.
How do you want to feel?
Here is a quick example. Let’s say you’re feeling overworked after a full week of non-stop meetings and burning the midnight oil. When you meet people socially, maybe don’t talk about work so much.
Switch to fun topics, like entertainment, parties, restaurants, or anything that you consider as fun. Maybe crack a joke or two.
The thing is to use conversation to get to the types of feelings you want to feel. And how you behave socially (how dynamic you are/ how serious you are) and what you talk about will influence how you feel.
Even better, as your conversation skills get better, you can acknowledge your feelings to others “I would love to forget about work a little bit if you don’t mind – I mean my week was very productive, but I’m so glad it’s over !” or “Ah! Enough about work! Tell me – How are things going with your new girlfriend?!”
That way, you are making the conversation fun – and almost explicitly telling the other person that you want to change your emotional state.
How are they feeling?
Another tip for having better conversations, is to take into account how the other person is feeling.
How they’re feeling dictates (the same way it does for you) how they interpret what you say, how they react to your jokes, what they talk about, how much attention they will give you, and how they socialize with you and others.
If you ignore how they’re feeling, then they’ll assume that you don’t get them. If they think you don’t get them, they won’t try and make friends with you. And if you’re already friends, they won’t value your friendship as much as one with a person who gets how they feel.
And this is the case whether you’re talking to a strong looking big man, or a very feminine fragile-looking woman. Both men and women are sensitive to how their friends “get” how they feel – they just express it differently on the outside.
How do they want to feel?
So, if you’re doing a good job in conversation and taking into account how they feel, then what should you do about it?
If they’re feeling great – then all you have to do is celebrate with them. Add good feelings to their good feelings and enjoy your time together.
If they’re not feeling so great, then it’s time to help them get to the other side of those feelings.
Don’t try and give them advice if they’re not asking for it. But just speak and use your words to show them that you believe in them.
The basic premise is this:
- Whatever the challenge or problem they have right now, you strongly believe they can overcome it.
- And even if it’s a problem that will not go away, at least you know how they feel, because you’ve put yourself in their shoes.
- Whatever the goal, outcome or vision they have of the future – you are very confident that they can achieve it.
That’s it. Show people that you have empathy and that you believe in them. That’s all they can ask of a good friend.
Feeling great – that’s the main reason people go to socialize and converse with others. So make sure you help them get to that feeling and help yourself feel awesome at the same time.
Advanced Conversation Technique: Adjust Your Conversational Dials
This is another advanced conversation skill. It’s about making sure you are flexible in how you express yourself.
You basically adapt your attitude to:
- The context you’re in,
- Who you’re talking to,
- And to your general goals behind the conversation.
BREAKING NEWS: your personality, attitude and the way you express yourself are not static; they’re not set in stone.
Your personality has more sides and is richer than you think. You may not explore those sides and may not have developed them, but you can start right now. You can start to have a well-rounded personality.
Here is a framework you can use to experiment and make yourself more flexible when talking and socializing.
You can always adapt your attitude to the social context you’re in.
Serious VS. silly/funny conversation
You can be as serious as the situation demands. If you’re talking to new business partners for example, you’d put the serious side of your personality.
And you can be funny and silly if you’re with friends and it’s all about having fun on a weekend evening. You can use both sides of your personality depending on the situation.
Professional VS. childish conversation
You can be a real pro – think high-level networking round table. Or have childlike fun – think dinner party with friends, it’s 2am and you’re playing “cards against humanity.”
“Talking to grandma”-polite VS. F-bombs galore
Swearing is part of conversation, too. It’s up to you whether or not that’s part of your style and attitude. In some situations, you would never say any potentially offensive words. Dinner with family and friends would be an example. Sometimes, you’re with old friends, and it’s time to let your hair down.
Intellectual Conversation VS. Wha-Zaaaaa*
Sometimes you want to give yourself permission to say a dumb thing, make stupid comments, and act silly. You know why? Because you choose to. And it helps you take yourself less seriously.
Sometimes, you’re having dinner with a smart, well-informed people who want to have those intellectual discussions.
Sometimes, people would go into those types of discussions just to see who will follow and who will fall behind. In any case, that would be a great time to show off your intellectual prowess – and maybe learn a thing or two.
It’s also a great opportunity to test out your arguments, and see how good you are in making a point during the conversation.
Debate VS. Go with the flow
Sometimes, you are argumentative, especially with existing friends, and you just feel like making your point and winning the argument. I strongly advise that you don’t abuse this. Have fun with it when you’re with old friends who know you well. But with new people, don’t overdo it.
Other times, you just want to go with the flow. Anything anybody says is “relatively” true. Or maybe it’s “partly” true, so you let it go. For example, someone is excited about a trip they just had.
Let’s say they said something inaccurate about the place or country they visited. It’s probably not that important. They’re just excited about the trip – so you may want to just let it go and don’t correct them.
Past VS. present VS. future
Some people love to reminisce about the past. Are you able to do that?
Other people love to talk about the future and how things will be, and what they plan to do in the future. Are you able to talk about that?
Some other people just wanna be here and now. They’re into being present and mindful with whatever they’re doing. Can you be here and now with them?
It’s up to you. But I guarantee you that you are able to have different types of conversations. Your personality is dynamic and so is your ability to adjust what you talk about and how you talk about it.
Just remember that you don’t always have to “follow” other people’s conversation style. You can choose how you’re willing to talk and what conversation style you’re just not into or refuse to engage in.
Doubt VS. Confidence
Some people learn how to be confident and keep a confident attitude no matter what. It’s crucial to be confident in conversation. But it doesn’t mean that your personality should be stuck in that mode of interaction forever.
There are times when you will not know about the subject being discussed. You can express doubt about what you say. You could say “Tell me if I’m completely wrong, but here is what I know about that…” or “I have no idea what you’re talking about, but is this the same as (…)?”
You could also be brought to a completely new friend group, and you’re confident, but not overconfident. You’re gauging. It’s natural to be reserved at first just to figure out where you are and who you’re with.
It’s okay to have doubts. You don’t have to keep a straight face and confident attitude 100% of the time.
If you’re never doubtful, then your confidence can seem fake. I recommend that you keep the freedom to be confident when you want to and be doubtful and hesitant when you think that’s appropriate. Don’t limit your personality to only one channel.
Nicest person in the room VS. sharp repartee / teasing / busting balls
This is another interesting continuum. You can be very nice overall to anyone you talk to. But you can also have fun and play tit-for-tat with friends who want to tease you and bust your balls.
Here is the thing, some very socially skilled people will value your conversations if you know how to be witty and add spice you to friendly conversations. They kind of test how socially experienced you are by how you respond to their subtle teasing.
Just remember that this is not required if you’re just starting out. If you’re just learning the basics of conversation, then keep this for the future. You’ll have plenty of time to perfect your wit and “repartee” later on.
Your conversational takeaway
The journey to being a brilliant conversationalist starts and ends with practice. Until you start having conversations, you will never improve. Therefore, begin with the basic steps, using conversation starters, and using feedback to encourage a greater contribution from others.
You might have some awful conversations along the way – make some cringe-like mistakes but you will have learnt something and you can move on. When you feel confident, try out some of the advanced techniques – remembering ultimately that conversation is all about the emotions of the people involved.