Are you trying to have more meaningful conversations? Sick of the boring small talk? If so, this article is for you. We have outlined below what makes a good conversation and what you can do to improve the quality of your social interactions. So, even if you are not comfortable with small talk now, or you find yourself getting stuck when talking to people, this article should help.
Bear in mind that as much as you can read about how to have better conversations, the best and fastest way to get better is to practice in real-life situations. Take the advice offered below and practice it in your next conversations.
Tips for How to Have Better Conversations
1. Ask Open-Ended Questions
Open-ended questions are those that do not have a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. They encourage the person being questioned to elaborate on their answers. As a result, they become more engaged in the conversation, which leads to more subject matter you might find interesting.
The opposite of an open-ended question is a close-ended question. These questions do not allow for much elaboration after a direct answer. For example, James asks Maria: ‘do you like painting?‘ This is a ‘yes or no’ question. If she says yes, James can follow up with ‘how long have you been painting?’ That is still closed because Maria can say, ‘three years.‘
If James were to ask Maria some open-ended questions, he could manage to open up the conversation. For example, he might ask, ‘what influenced you to start painting?‘ That question cannot be answered with a simple yes or no and requires Maria to elaborate. Maria might respond with, ‘my grandmother was a painter, and when I was a child, I always played with her paints.‘
Open-ended questions provide the space for insight, inspiration, and reflection.Rhonda Britten, Life coach, author, and public speaker
Open-ended questions make for good conversations because they engage people, give you a chance to take a break from being the talker, and make you likable. If someone opens up to you when responding to your question and senses that you are listening, they will positively associate talking to you and being heard.
2. Be Comfortable in Silence
Silence is completely natural in any conversation. Still, many of us are avoiding it. We tend to fill silences with statements we do not mean or questions we do not want to ask because silence can sometimes feel awkward. Even though silence may only last for ten seconds, it already feels like a lifetime when you are uncomfortable.
Some people choose to fill in silence because they are anxious. They believe that their silence reflects a lack of anything meaningful to say, and the other person’s silence reflects their disinterest in them. This is rarely the case. The fact is that silence is a natural part of a conversation as words, just like silence is needed for music to make sense.
The more comfortable you get with silence in your conversations, the more tolerable it becomes. Moreover, you realize that a natural break in the conversation gives both parties time to reflect on what has been said, check-in with themselves, or just take a breather.
If you can sit in silence with a person for half an hour and yet be entirely comfortable, you and that person can be friends. If you cannot, friends you’ll never be, and you need not waste time trying.L.M. Montgomery, Author
What makes conversational silence even better is that even though it can feel like a bad thing, it is not. In conversations where both parties are not listening to each other and do not care what the other has to say, silence is likely to occur. Both parties might talk over each other for attention and just want to get the words out of their mouths. When silence visits a conversation, it is usually because one party or the other is thinking about what was said or is taking time to rebalance themselves.
3. Practice Active Listening
Active listening is an absolute must if you want to have better conversations. You might think that you are listening to conversations, but many of us do not. That is not a character flaw or a negative personality trait—we are just easily distracted by our environment or sometimes too focused on what we will say next.
We mentioned above how silence in conversation makes people feel uncomfortable. The desire to avoid that discomfort can manifest as predicting or getting ready to say something perfect, interesting, or witty when the other person has finished speaking.
“I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening.”Larry King, TV host
When you listen to someone, you do not respond immediately. Whether a second or ten, take some time to digest what the person has said. Again, the other person might want you to immediately respond so that they do not have to deal with the silence.
Still, if you take your time and listen, you will be able to respond well to the other person and maintain the quality of the conversation. Your genuine interest and active listening will show how you continue the conversation. Even if that person felt awkward with the silence before, they will likely feel reassured by your presence and listening.
How to Become a Better Listener
To become a better listener, do not just listen to their words. Pay attention to the person’s body language, tone of voice, and word choices. Consider how they ask questions and assess how confident or shy they are. Drop your preconceptions, judgments, and assumptions about the person. Be open to their message by imagining what it is like to be in that person’s shoes, saying the words they are saying.
Understand that deeply listening to someone requires you to be present with them. If you are distracted by something else, like your environment, other people, or your phone, you will not be fully engaged with the person. If you are not entirely with them, you might miss subtle cues such as shifts in body language or tone of voice, and missing those cues can derail a conversation.
4. Use Your Body Language
Body language is a powerful communication tool. Eye contact, posture, direction, and even hand positions tell a lot about how we feel in a conversation and can lead to deep and intimate conversations, or it can lead to awkward and vague conversations. The foundation of a good conversation is that all parties are genuinely interested in it. When one person stops being interested, the conversation becomes one-sided and feels more like a chore than a mutually beneficial sharing of ideas and stories.
This is where body language comes in. You might want to have this conversation, but if your body language expresses disinterest or a reluctance to engage, your conversational partner may pick up on disinterest. At that point, they will be less likely to keep the conversation going because they do not want it to be one-sided.
“Body language is a very powerful tool. We had body language before we had speech, and apparently, 80% of what you understand in a conversation is read through the body, not the words.”Deborah Bull
So, if you want to have a conversation that lasts and is consistent in quality, you should be mindful of your body language. Make and maintain eye contact, turn your body towards the person to whom you are speaking (if reasonable), and keep your torso open and unblocked (consider how crossed arms or crossed legs might come across.) Remember that body language also involves facial expressions and tone of voice, so it is still relevant even if you are on a phone or video call.
These are not solid rules, so you do not have to follow them exactly in every conversation. Still, practicing mindful use of your body language, even if you do not change anything, will help you more accurately navigate your conversations over time.
Mirroring with Body Language
Mirroring body language helps you keep a conversation alive. It is a way of listening and non-verbally engaging with the other person. While the verbal aspect of the conversation takes place on the surface, there is also listening and engagement on a deeper level. When you successfully and strategically mirror someone’s body language, you show them that you are interested in them. It then helps them feel more excited and encourages them to keep talking.
To mirror someone, as the name suggests, you copy what they do. That means you pay attention to their body language, such as if their legs are crossed, their hands are on the table, or how tall they are sitting. You then wait for something in the conversation to shift—perhaps something sparks your interest, then mirrors the body language. Be mindful not to be overly robotic about your mirroring. Keep it subtle.
5. Embrace the Small Talk
Though it never feels meaningful, small talk serves a purpose. It helps people enter a conversation to get a sense of what it is like to engage with a person. Once they feel safe, a deeper, richer, and more meaningful conversation grows. It is completely normal to dislike small talk. It can be dull and pointless, and if you are searching for conversational excitement and stimulation, you probably will not get it from small talk. Still, it is a valuable skill to develop.
The better you get at making small talk, the more people you will have an opportunity to talk to. Sure, you might find yourself in deep conversations with strangers sometimes, but more often than not, people do not get comfortable opening up until they have met someone at least a few times. Small talk fills that space between meeting someone for the first time and having that deep conversation you are looking for.
6. Be Curious
Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it revives conversations. When you are talking to someone, and you anticipate a dip in the conversation, or you simply just do not know what to say, turn your attention to the person you are with. Do not be afraid to talk about yourself for a little while, but get curious about that other person if you are stuck.
Change the topic, ask them insightful questions, or find common ground between you, such as your favorite moves if you have any siblings. These are small things to be curious about, but they can open a whole new avenue in your conversation when approached as open-ended questions.
We mentioned the power and importance of open-ended questions earlier. They are great for getting your conversation partner to open up and offer more than a simple yes or no. You can also reverse the dynamic by simply elaborating on your answers. For example, you might find yourself in a conversation with someone who wants to talk to you but may feel shy or awkward and do not know how to maintain it.
If you want to help them out, you can answer their close-ended questions, pause, and then elaborate. This will take some personal intuition and discernment, but if you pay attention to their body language, you should be able to pick up how they feel about your elaboration. They might be slouching and kind of closed off at first, but they start to look relaxed and open when you elaborate. That is a sign that they wanted to hear more, but perhaps they did not know how to make that happen.
The more you can tune to the body language and overall energy of the people you speak to, the easier you will be able to see what a conversation needs to keep going.
We all want to have interesting conversations, and most of us worry about saying the wrong thing from time to time. We also might not be interested in what others are talking about, whether it is the global economy, a pandemic, or a new reality TV show episode. We are human beings and need to connect, so it is entirely normal to be concerned with the quality of your conversations. Still, if you are the most talented conversationalist now, that does not mean you cannot get there.
Being a good conversationalist is a skill, and just like any other skill, it can be practiced and developed. The keyword here is practice, so do not be afraid to start up a new conversation as much as you can. Some will not go well, and some will be amazing, but the more conversations you make, the better you will get.