Put down your phone and dazzle 'em with your conversation skills.
When was the last time you had an actual conversation with someone? Not on a screen. I mean face-to-face.
In this age of texts, tweets, and email communication, taking time to have a great conversation is a rare and beautiful thing. Learning to communicate with confidence is worth the effort. Why? Because connecting with people this way is fun, it keeps life interesting, and both you and the person you're talking to walk away feeling truly seen and heard.
So, the question is — how strong are your conversation skills?
If you want to capture someone's attention and be the person they love to speak with most, avoid asking dead end questions like: "How are you?", "How ya doing?", and "What’s new?"
The other person often replies with their own autopilot answer: "It’s all good." Or, "Fine."
The key to captivating conversation is moving past routine politeness. Here are a few smart ways to improve your communication skills:
1. Smile when you speak
Smiling at appropriate times in person (even on the phone, or via Skype) improves your tone of voice and promotes a friendlier atmosphere. You can test its immediate value by listening to your more appealing voice when you smile and when you don’t.
2. Make your greetings personal and positive
Experiment with phrases such as "It's so good to see you," "Let's connect a bit later" and other positive comments. Use them when you just want to move on, but in a pleasant way, or to keep the door open for a meaningful conversation. These options seem better than being a "How are you?" person who just keeps talking or walking.
3. Go beyond stating the obvious
You can avoid comments the other person already knows and seemingly safe topics that usually keep conversation static. To remind yourself and possibly move beyond such choices, consider how you could improve on the following, if these examples relate to your tendencies and situations:
- You’ve lost weight. (You’re telling the person something s/he knows already. You could go a step further with "I think you’re looking great!" or "I think you look even better than last time we met.")
- What are you doing (tonight, this weekend, or current holiday)? (This is inquisitive and possibly nosey, but avoids any commitment. To show your interest in connecting further, try something such as, "Let’s see when we can get together.")
- Mention a sports outcome of mutual interest, weather that relates to your shared situation, or third party activities of some relevance.
4. Express genuine interest to deepen conversations
As you express genuine interest and differentiate yourself from the autopilot people, you build trust and empathy. That invites others to open up and share more with you.
If it’s a first chance for conversation, mention your name and something that connects you with the other person such as, "We both know (name of person in common) … I was hoping I'd get to connect with you." Or, "I’d love a chance to talk with you."
Once the person you're speaking with starts to open up, here are a few ways to keep the conversation going:
- Bring up mutual accomplishments, experiences, and collaborations
- Ask about their interests, including work or not
- Refer back to a topic discussed earlier
- Ask open-ended, substantive questions usually starting with "what" and "how"
- Mention information, leads, and contacts useful to the other person
- Share your experience with activities and struggles of probable value to the other person
- Refer to some aspect of a situation you’re both in
- Comment positively and specifically on an aspect of the person’s appearance or action
5. Pay attention to your nonverbal cues
Your and others’ nonverbal cues are often more significant and informative than actual words. What mood do you notice or express? Is there receptivity, interest, anxiety, boredom,
shyness, distraction on the other person's part?
Adjust your approach accordingly to support your goals for a relationship (such as expanding friendships, networking about work opportunities, etc.)
Learn more about being a great conversationalist
Conversation is an art — one you'll get better at the more you learn about what works (and what doesn't). Spend time with books, articles, and videos about effectively enriching your communication skills. I recommend the following "The Art of Conversation" by Catherine Blythe; "How to Start a Conversation and Make Friends" by Don Gabor; "Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in the Digital Age by MIT media scholar Sherry Turkle; and her great article "Stop Googling, Let’s Talk."
To continue your progress, observe what others do in person and on TV, iPod, computer, and movie screens to notice fresh approaches and what you may want to avoid. Perhaps get honest feedback about your approach by practicing with a colleague or friend who’d also appreciate some assistance in exchange.
Let your goals and curiosity, as well as sense of adventure, lead you to new opportunities and levels of enjoyment in conversation — whatever your preferences, style, and tendencies toward extroversion or introversion. The process will help you create and deepen the good relationships you want in your life — professionally and personally.