If you know how to improve conversation skills, you’ll do wonders for your social skills. In this article, we’ll go over some important conversation skills and how to improve them.
The ability to talk helps you achieve your social goals: make friends, enjoy socializing, network, connect and reconnect with friends. It also allows you to receive respect and appreciation within professional and business circles.
The Essential Conversational Skills
The qualities of a great conversationalist could take a lifetime to develop. Those people who can put you at ease, manage the transitions, and help you to communicate your ideas are highly talented. However, there are some essentials that you could easily begin to master with just a little practice.
Handling the first few seconds
The first few moments of a conversation are going to set the tone for the success to come. You need to overcome the initial strangeness without injecting awkwardness into the conversation.
Therefore, when you approach, smile, and make eye contact. With a reasonable level of enthusiasm, you will introduce yourself and what you do. Your aim: to get to the point quickly and to put the other person at ease. Too much enthusiasm and you will overwhelm the other person, but if you look disinterested you will appear cold.
Putting the conversation in its context
If a conversation is a picture, then it’s important to frame it. In other words, you set the boundaries for the conversation from the start. This means talking about why you are here and why you are talking about it.
Even if it is a casual conversation, you should let the other understand the relevance of the exchange. For instance, if you are attending an event, talk about what sparked your interest and made you come – and then ask what sparked their interest as well.
What if you are just touching base with an old friend? Great, say that it’s been a while since you talked and you were wondering how they’re doing.
This allows you to draw the parameters of the conversation quickly – which makes it easier for them and you to talk. It gives you an unconscious reason for why you’re talking and what it is appropriate to talk about.
Proving you understand each other when you talk
Most people converse unconsciously. They do not stop to say: “Oh ok, I get it. Here is what I think…” Often, they don’t take the time to ask questions and really understand. Misinterpreting what others say happens from time to time and it is important to employ strategies to avoid this.
Misunderstandings, even on trivial topics, create the feeling of being disconnected. For example, someone says I don’t like Spanish tapas restaurants around here… Now, why is that? Do they mean that they’ve had the best tapas in the world and now their standards are high?
Maybe they dislike tapas in general? Or maybe the fish is not that fresh where you are – geographically speaking? Or… they have another preference, maybe they like a good-old barbecue restaurant … or they like the classic three-course dinner? What is it they mean specifically?
Well, if you can ask a question to focus in and get specific information – you prove you really understand – and what you’ll say in response will be relevant. This will make the conversation more interesting and bring you closer to becoming connected with the other person.
Gracefully talk about personal topics
The more you know a person, the more you can ‘get personal’ with them. With people you barely know, you can start to talk about personal subjects and therefore begin the process of building a friendship. This connection can start even during the first few minutes of talking.
But you want to approach this with grace – don’t get too personal too fast – don’t ask questions that might intrude – just brush by topics and see if the other person is willing to share.
Switch back and forth from serious to fun conversation
When talking to people, you want to demonstrate that you are a serious person when it comes to important subjects. However, you can also show how you enjoy life and have a good time. Depending on the context you are in, and who you’re talking to, make sure your conversation is not too serious and dry. Do not give the impression that you can’t have fun – but don’t be too silly and fun.
You want to be taken seriously too, and give the impression that people can “get something” or learn something from talking to you. Someone who is 100% serious can seem boring – someone who’s 100% silly cannot be relied upon. Balancing fun talk and serious talk is a vital conversational skill.
Establishing points of commonality and similarity
You have to actually say what you feel you have in common or where your paths are similar. You should mention experiences you share: from the mundane “Oh yeah! It was a real pain to find a parking space for me too” to the specific: “What? You do yoga on the beach Saturday at 10 am? How come I’ve never seen you – I go every Saturday morning around 10 too!”
Encourage others to open up
A vital conversational skill is the capacity to accept and tolerate a variety of points of view. You give the impression that any subject can be seen from different perspectives and people have varied interpretations. If you can’t prove this then people will think you are one-dimensional.
You are someone who can only understand a personal point of view and are closed to others’ opinions. If they feel you won’t tolerate any of their unique opinions – and won’t open up – they may think you to be judgemental.
You need to be considered the opposite of judgemental: you want them to open up so you can create friendships with them.
Use conversational flexibility
A good conversationalist is a dynamic conversationalist: to be a great conversationalist you need to be able to change subjects! It means that you can take the initiative and tell a story! You can wrap up a subject and move on to another!
It also means that you can draw in a third or fourth person in the conversation by directing the conversation towards them: “How about you, George? What do you think is the best neighborhood to live in, in this town?”
You are changing the subject because your social intelligence tells you it’s the right thing to do. For example: don’t let Bob gloat about how happy he is with his wife when you know that Sally is going through a rough time and trying to repair her relationship.
A good conversationalist is a dynamic conversationalist.
In other words, being dynamic means you can stop a conversation, start it again, stop the subject, and deflect from negative topics. It means you can involve others in conversation, hold the attention of others, listen when it’s time to listen, and give the “conversational floor” to someone who didn’t get the chance to express themselves.
It also means that you can replace the tension with some humor when the chat gets too heated or tense. You will help friends move towards a compromise if they got into an endless debate.
This is conversational leadership – and people will appreciate this skill in you.
Uplift others: make them feel powerful and important
Have you ever heard of the saying ‘leave a situation better than you found it’? A conversation is an opportunity to do this in your everyday interactions. You want to make others feel tolerated, appreciated, believed in.
Ultimately, you want to “validate them” and smile at them. It’s as if you’re saying “You’re making sense. In your place, I would do the same thing.”
You don’t have to do this all the time and accept everything they say. However, in general, you want to leave them with a feeling of being accepted by you, appreciated, understood, tolerated, and… that they’re not crazy – what they say and do makes sense.
It’s as if you’re saying “You’re making sense. In your place, I would do the same thing.”
You can do more. You can help them believe whatever they’re working on, whatever is their dream or aspiration can be achieved. “Yeah, of course, you can do that!” “Oh, that’s amazing! What a great goal to have! With a little persistence, I’m sure you can pull it off!”
Let them feel that whatever is standing in their way, can be eventually overcome! “I think I understand what you’re dealing with, my cousin went through the same thing, and boy-oh-boy was she sad! After a few months though, just by talking to family, going to support groups, and working on her goals and building a positive vision of the future… things started to turn around and she was able to move on.”
This would be an indirect way to show the other person that whatever problem or challenge they have – they can overcome it. You have just given them a real live example! They will remember that talking to you uplifted them and made them feel that they have more power over their circumstances – what a great person you are!
How To Improve Your Conversation Skills
If these are the qualities of the great conversationalists, what can you do to get there? Here are some practical tips to help move you in the right direction.
1. Practice your conversation skills wherever you are
It is easy enough to converse with friends and family, where the rules of interaction have been honed over time. If you want to get really good at talking to people, you need to converse with strangers.
Starting a conversation with a stranger requires you to share a common experience, show just the right amount of enthusiasm without unnerving the other person and take some leadership to direct the interaction. The more you do this, the easier it gets.
2. Go to social and networking events just to practice
If you go to networking events give yourself permission to fail and learn: don’t wait until you’re talking to the people who are important. Look to talk to lots of people. Then, when talking to the people you really need as friends – your conversation skills need to be ready.
You looking to connect with people with common interests as you, people you find really exciting, interesting, inspiring, and more – but these might not be the people you speak to straight away. Eventually, though, you will find those that can help you achieve your goals, introduce you to others, etc.
Start by going to random events where the pressure for success is low – and practice at this event, making sure your conversational skills are ready when meeting the most important people
3. Expand your “conversational comfort zone”
There is a length of time during which you’re comfortable talking. I call it your “conversational comfort zone.” You need to expand it by exercising your skills.
The way you can do this is by talking 5% longer than you’re used to. 5% is not much, it’s not intimidating. You can do it. Talk 5% longer than usual, just offer a few more sentences. When you are comfortable with that extra 5% do it again… expand 5% more. Get comfortable… and keep doing that until you’re comfortable talking more and more with confidence.
4. Pay attention to the conversation rhythm
- When in group conversations with socially skilled people, pay attention to the following:
- How long each person is talking
- How they take turns talking
- When they tell a story vs. when they’re just stating facts
- The way they present arguments to make a point and convince others vs. when they’re just listening and agreeing
- How they make jokes vs. how they get serious
- The way they talk about themselves to show good things about themselves vs. focusing on others and uplifting them
Pay attention to the conversational dynamic and rhythm, so you can better fit within the exchange… and then lead it elsewhere when you feel comfortable.
5. Practice uplifting others
Making the other person feel good – believe in them. Once you do this people will want to talk with you longer. They are happy when they are talking to you – they smile at you and include you in their future plans to socialize. This, in turn, gives you even more opportunities to talk and improve your conversational skills.
6. Play with confident talk to hesitant talk
You know a lot about some subjects. When talking about these topics show that you know what you’re talking about. However, you may know practically nothing about some subjects and that’s okay – say that “I really don’t know much about that, but here is what I heard…” “Frankly, I’m not sure what you should do – I’m not familiar with this situation…”
The reason you should bounce back and forth from confidence to doubt and hesitation is to create more dynamism and bring more honesty to your conversations. You will develop the reputation as a person who will only say they know something when they really know it. That’s different from someone who always says “Oh yeah, I know about that.”
Try and always be comfortable saying “I don’t know”. People will then assume that when you say you know something, you really do. They will listen to you and respect you more.
7. Practice discovering the important topics in a person’s life
Each person lives in their “reality”. They have a few important and urgent topics. Then there are those peripheral topics, but they are still important. When talking to people, try and discover what’s on their mind lately – without asking too directly if you are unsure of the context. If you can do this, you’ll have their full attention in the conversation.
Think of it like this: try and paint a picture of their life and what is on their mind lately. Ask about their profession/job/ and what’s currently going on there…
- Are they involved in a big project?
- Are they working towards a promotion?
- Trying to change jobs? Go work for themselves?
- How are things personally? Are they dating someone? Are they married? Any kids on the way?
- Where is their next vacation going to be?
- What are they reading right now? Are they listening to any interesting podcasts?
- Any documentaries or movies they saw lately?
- How about sports? Do they work out? Planning to start working out?
If you want to talk about personal topics, approach them slowly. Slowly but ultimately, you want to get personal. That’s part of how you use your conversation skills to develop deeper friendships.
Go through a variety of subjects and see what lights them up. What are they excited to talk about? Those are the subjects to focus on for a while — and remember to bring these up the next times you touch base with them.
If you know how to get to those important subjects – they’ll put you in a category of people they love talking to – because talking to you is not just meaningless chit-chat – it’s a meaningful conversation!
8. Practice talking about yourself
Yes, it’s not enough to invite others to talk and reveal themselves… while you stay a closed book nobody can open up and read you. In other words, they will not be able to trust you. Practice talking about yourself; it’s one of the important conversation skills too.
You can practice it at home at first. Try and formulate statements that answer the following: this is who I am, here is what I do, this is what I like about what I do, what I don’t like about it; here is what I love doing during weekends, and where I would love to travel; here is what I find interesting right now… and so one.
Practice formulating statements like these to give a general idea of who you are.
Practice saying these things – even if no one is directly asking you about them. Give people something they can remember about you. Focus on making your points clear and easy to understand.
Once you become friends and have more time – you can get into more details and be more nuanced. I’m not saying dumb down who you are, but rather express who you are with more clarity at first – then go into more details later, when the time is right.
9. Practice finding humor in what is being said
Humor can help a conversation to flow and can reveal more of your personality. Quick and witty puns can show your sharp mind. Using irony and exaggeration can help to lighten a serious topic
Humor improves your ability to alleviate tension and makes the conversation more dynamic. It’s like telling people: “Hey, we can joke around and enjoy our time… we don’t have to be formal here.”
You don’t have to be good at humor at all, just by trying to say something funny, you already accomplished the objective. You indirectly said, “Hey, we can drop the serious faces here and just enjoy our time together.”
10. Bonus tip
You don’t have to be skilled in every conversation. Each conversation is just one among thousands. Bring down the pressure, realize that you are human, and you are allowed to make mistakes. The worst-case scenario? You need to apologize! By decreasing the pressure, you converse more, you get more practice and then improve your conversational skills.
How Poor Conversation Skills Affect Your Personality
How we view ourselves is directly influenced by how we are viewed by other people. We show ourselves to others through our conversations. Therefore, the better we get at expressing the values, beliefs, and morals that make up our personality, the more self-worth we will feel when this is affirmed by other people. Poor conversation can, therefore, have a dramatic impact.
You could be perceived as inconsiderate
If you don’t take into account others’ feelings and concerns, you could be perceived as inconsiderate. This might not be what you meant at all. However, being too insular, instead of putting your attention on others, can give this impression.
You could be seen as selfish
You could be seen as having a selfish and self-absorbed personality if you cut people off, fail to listen, or struggle to lift the confidence of the other. This is probably not your intention at all – it’s just a consequence of poor conversation skills.
You could be seen as superficial
If you’re too nervous and start racing from subject to subject, giving your opinion time and time again, you could be perceived as lacking grace in conversation. Equally, if you’re just hopping from one thing to the other, some people could perceive that as you having a superficial character.
You could be seen as intrusive, with poor boundaries
If you rush into personal subjects too soon, without gaining permission to talk about them, you can be perceived as intrusive. You need to build trust first else you will be judged as insensitive and clumsy.
You could be seen as shy or even boring
If you never have anything to say – or you never say anything because you never know when to talk you could be perceived as shy and even boring. A simple lack of conversational skills and people start to think that there is nothing much to you.
With improved conversational skill you can shape the way you are perceived. The intersection between your inner world and the presentation of your outer self is mediated through conversation.
What An Effective Conversation Is
An effective conversation is one that achieves the goals of the people talking without being self-conscious or strained. Ultimately, to be effective in a conversation, you need to be mindful of why you are talking.
What is the purpose of your conversation?
Are you touching base with an acquaintance? An old friend? A family member? Ok, great! Touch base! Ask questions about how things have been since last time you spoke. Be sure to ask about all the important things: work, family, interests and hobbies, health, and fun.
Don’t forget the other essential side of the coin: give them your full update on your life. Then, you have touched base. You are an effective conversationalist.
When you want to know if your conversation skills are improving, don’t get caught up in the topics. The content and the words that are being said aren’t always the priority. More important than what you say is why you’re talking in the first place and the friendship you’re building.
Here is another example: talking to a new person at a social event.
Why are you talking? Well, both of you are there to have a good time and maybe make some new friends. That is great! Talk about who you are, who they are, and look for common interests, common life facts, common stories, and common opinions.
Share funny stories, interesting things you’ve heard, and give them the opportunity to shine and reveal good things about themselves – acknowledge what sounds interesting in what they say.
One of the most important conversation skills you can have is making people feel great about themselves.
But wait! The purpose of your conversation… could be just to talk!
Yes, we humans derive many good feelings from just talking! Even if it seems meaningless and inconsequential talk, it still has a purpose: human-to-human connection. It’s there to make us feel good, that we exist, that we are valid as human beings, and that all is relatively fine with who we are.
Again, an effective conversation is one that accomplishes the goals and purpose of the people talking.
Some other examples of conversation purpose include:
- Looking for business opportunities – talking about business or career
- Connecting between existing and new friends
- Alleviating the tension and having fun after a full week of work
- Feeling good after going through hurtful conflicts or problems
- Seeking encouragement and reducing anxiety to face upcoming projects and challenges
Be mindful of what people are seeking (and what you’re seeking) from a conversation, it’ll make you a much more effective conversationalist.
Improve Your Conversation Skills By Following The Rules Of Conversation
Here are some rules of thumb for good conversations. Follow them so you can keep others interested in talking to you. The longer and more often you talk to people, the faster you’ll improve your conversation skills.
1. Respect the context
Respect the boundaries. If you’re in a professional environment, you can be pleasant and somewhat fun, but you need to stay relatively formal. Always respect the context when choosing a topic and how you express your views.
2. Manage the Conversational Floor
Don’t hold the floor too much and don’t hold it too little. As a rule of thumb, it should be 50%-50% during your very first conversation with someone. You can then transition to your general preference, but try and talk a minimum of 20% and a maximum of 80%.
3. Be considerate
If the other person seems animated and very engaged in what they’re saying, be sure to listen. If it seems vital to them, don’t change the subject too quickly. They made the effort to share with you something important to them, so give them the space to express it.
4. Never let yourself disappear
It’s okay to be a great listener, but you need to be present, you need to be part of the conversation. You can’t just listen and say nothing about yourself. Talk about yourself sometimes, and share your opinions and stories.
5. Use your conversation skills to include everyone in the group
Try giving everyone the chance to capture your attention in a group conversation. Even if someone doesn’t talk that much, turn to them from time to time and see what they have to say about what’s being discussed.
Maybe they’re having trouble getting the attention, help them shine – it’s the right thing to do. Sometimes all you have to do is turn your body language towards them – they’ll see it as a chance to contribute.
6. Always help others save face
If there is anything that could potentially embarrass others in a conversation, make it disappear. Change the topic if you have to. If it’s a mistake someone made – act as if it didn’t happen; if it’s a potentially hurtful line of talk – direct the conversation away from it. Always make sure that you help others save face. Again, it’s the right thing to do.
7. Agree with people, most of the time, generally speaking
Don’t disagree and argue about unimportant things. Don’t split hairs. If the subject is not that important – let it go! Let. It. Go. Why? Because most potential friends are eager to be right and want you to validate them. You don’t have to say you agree with something you don’t agree with.
But you do want to avoid crushing their ego by saying directly and clearly that they’re wrong. Remember, help them save face.
8. Believe in them more than they do
This is not a basic rule – it’s a habit used by those masterful in conversation. When these masters talk to you, they’re positive about you, they believe in whatever you want to create and achieve, and they’re confident that you can overcome anything you’re dealing with.
Guess what happens next? You love them! You look forward to talking to them again and again. So… be that person in conversations.
9. Nobody cares that much about your poor conversation skills
The worst that can happen when you have poor conversational skills is that you don’t get to create a friendship with the person. This is why I advise that you practice conversations with people you’re not necessarily interested in being friends with anyway. Improve your conversation skills by practicing with random people.
After a while, when you meet those interesting and fun friends that you really need in your life, your conversation skills will be ready!
10. Don’t be that annoying know-it-all
Don’t be the persona that can never learn anything from anyone. Whenever they hear something, they say “I already knew that!” or “Well, of course !!” or “Well, not only that but bla bla blah…” It’s very annoying. Never be that person. Even if you know something, it doesn’t mean others shouldn’t bring it up. Just say ‘yes’ and move on. You don’t have to tell the world you knew it already.
Your thirty-second takeaway
We have covered a lot of ground here on conversation skills. There are some vital tips that need to be clear over everything else. Remember, good conversation is central to your personal and professional life – but you won’t get good until you practice.
You need to go out into the world and try out the many tips you have been given – fully prepared to fail and then try again. Those masters of conversation emerged after years of trial and error. It is time to get started.