10 Tiny Tricks People Who Are Good At Conversation Use To Make You Like Them

Amp up small talk into something more meaningful.

Last updated on Jun 28, 2024

two women having a good conversation Valeria Venezia / Shutterstock

People have trained excessively for zero-sum conversations (also known as an argument) and not nearly as much for non-zero-sum conversations (where both parties gain satisfaction from the discussion).

But it's important to remember that good conversations are everything! They're literally why we live, besides survival. We live to connect. We live to bond. We live to love. Suffice it to say, we need to learn how to have better conversations.


In Celeste Headlee's TED Talk, she discussed the ways in which you can have great conversations.

Here are 10 tricks people who are good at conversation use to make you like them

1. Don't multitask

women talking and multitasking Anastasiya Gepp / Pexels

How often have you seen two people sitting in a cafe, both of them staring at their phones when they should be talking to each other? Or, have you ever entered a conversation where the other person is speaking but you're thinking about something else?

We've all been there. We've all carelessly sat our way through several conversations.

But Headlee says that we shouldn't be half in and half out. If at the moment we're not able to be 100% in a conversation, she suggests we get out of it.

RELATED: 3 Conversational Tricks To Charm The Pants Out Of Literally Anyone


2. Don't pontificate

long winded conversation Jopwell / Pexels

According to Headlee, "If you want to state your opinion without any opportunity for response or argument or pushback or growth, write a blog."

She adds that we shouldn't enter conversations with fixed mindsets. Instead, every conversation must be seen as an opportunity to learn something.

Famous therapist M. Scott Peck once said that "True listening requires a setting aside of oneself." So, for the time being, suspend your personal opinions. Open up your inner recesses and allow other perspectives to enter, and people will like you in no time.


3. Use open-ended questions

women asking questions fauxels / Pexels

Headlee has a simple rule: If you ask simple questions, you get complex answers. If you ask complex questions, you get simple answers. So, it's essential to preserve the balance.

For example:

Q: Were you afraid? (complex question)

A: Yes. (simple answer)

Q: How did you feel? (simple question)

A: I felt afraid; choked up. I didn't know what to think or do. The world felt like it had stopped.

Simply put, avoid asking yes/no type of questions. Don't assume their feelings; let them describe it. Using open-ended questions brings more depth to the conversations. Start your questions with who, what, where, when, and how.


4. Go with the flow

group of friends talking Keira Burton / Pexels

When we listen, our minds don't stop working. Stories and ideas keep coming to our minds, and we're determined to share them once the person in front of us stops speaking.

This is why we often try to hold that story in while the other person is still speaking. This leads to us being poor listeners.

As the other person is speaking, we suddenly remember how we once saw Christian Bale at the airport. Since it's a story worth sharing, we stop listening and focus on not letting our story go.

However, according to Headlee, it's a big mistake. As she says, "Stories and ideas are going to come to you... you need to let them come and go."

RELATED: What People Really Want To Know When They Ask You These 3 Questions

5. Show intellectual humility

intellectuals conversing fauxels / Pexels

We tend to find opportunities to show how knowledgeable we are. We're afraid of saying, "I don't know," as if that makes us look unintelligent.

However, as David Burkus states, saying "I don't know" conveys intellectual curiosity and intellectual humility. Perhaps you say "I don't know" even when you do know. And it's for a few reasons:

First, when a person begins to share something, they do so with excitement. Having told the other person something they didn't know feels nice. If you interrupt with an "I know," it kills their excitement, and that's disappointing and uncomfortable.

Second, when a person begins to share something that you already know, there's a possibility that they might later add something that you didn't know after all. Again, if you hit the brake with an "I know," you deprive yourself of knowing something new.


6. Don't equate your experiences to theirs

serious conversation Alexander Suhorucov / Pexels

It comes down to letting people have their moments. If someone is talking about having lost a loved one, don't start talking about the time you lost a family member. If they're telling you how they feel stuck in life, don't start talking about how you feel the same.

It's okay to let the other person know that they're not alone. However, there's a thin line between doing that and pushing them out of the spotlight altogether to talk about yourself.

Headlee says, "All experiences are individual," so you must be careful as to not equate your experiences with theirs.

7. Don't keep repeating yourself

woman repeating herself talking Ketut Subiyanto / Pexels

It's annoying when someone you know keeps repeating the same thing over and over again, and you keep telling them you heard them. But to be good at conversation and have people like you, it's important to make sure you aren't also doing this.

According to Headlee, people often tend to keep repeating things when they have an important point to convey. Parents do it with their kids and bosses do it with their employees.

Yet, obviously, it's very boring and condescending at the same time. So, if you sometimes act like a broken record — and worse, if this annoying habit lies in your blind spot — try to be more aware and resist doing so.

RELATED: 8 Genius Ways To Become Incredibly Consistent At Anything In Life


8. Don't strain your brain to recollect unimportant details

women thinking too hard Andrea Piacquadio / Pexels

If you've ever said something like, "Umm... let me think... It was 2017, I think. No wait. When was the Rio Olympics? No wait! Let me check my Whatsapp chats," rest assured that the person in front of you has lost interest in your story.

The point is, people don't care about the silly details. They don't care about the names of people they don't know. They don't care about the date. You don't have to strain your brain to come up with these details. People can do without those.

Rather, what they care about is you. They want to know what happened. They want to know how you felt. They want to know what you did. So, forget the unimportant details.

9. Pay attention and listen

friends listening to each other Athena Sandrini / Pexels

You may have heard a lot of tips to be a better listener: "Nod. Look into their eyes. Ask questions. Smile." But Headlee says to forget all that because, "There's no reason to learn how to show you're paying attention, if you are, in fact, paying attention."

There are two reasons people don't listen.

For starters, we'd rather talk because then we're the center of attention. We're in control and we like it. Secondly, we get distracted. The average person can speak at 125 words per minute but can process up to 800 words per minute. So, that gap is filled by our minds.

Listening, even though being a passive action, takes effort and energy. But if we can't do that — as Headlee puts it — "You're not in a conversation. You're just two people shouting out barely related sentences in the same place."

So forget about showing you're paying attention, and simply pay attention! The rest will take care of itself.


10. Be brief

woman smiling and talking to another person Alexander Suhorucov / Pexels

We now have shorter attention spans than goldfish. But surely your attention span is greater than that.

Either way, our attention spans have been dwarfed and you cannot expect people to listen to your stories if they're excessively long. In the interest of keeping it brief, according to Headlee's sister, "A good conversation is like a mini-skirt; short enough to retain interest, but long enough to cover the subject."

Conversations are everything. Even if you have all the money and fame in the world, if you don't know how to have good conversations, you won't have meaningful relationships.

Isn't life without good relationships nothing but a hollow box? It may be pretty on the outside but is empty on the inside.

RELATED: The Easiest Way To Get Exactly What You Want In A Conversation

Akshad Singi, M.D. is a writer whose work has been published in Better Humans, Mind Cafe, Medium, and more.