Why didn’t he call me back? Why didn’t she laugh at my joke? Why don’t they want to hang out again?
Do you ever get the feeling that maybe something you did or said sabotaged your conversation (or worse, your relationship!?).
In a perfect world, we could all take the Conversation Skills Assessment Aggregator 2000 and it would spit out a printed analysis of our entire communication profile. It would detail our every strength and weakness, our every good and bad habit, and even our conversation style. Maybe it would even make polite suggestions for you in a British accent.
Luckily, you have a good friend who always advises you on your conversation habits. Oh, you don’t? Neither do I. If we are making a conversation mistake, most of us will never find out. People will just choose not to talk to us as much. You may not think anything of it.
You may not have a friend or a machine that can politely make suggestions, but there are very common conversation mistakes you can look out for. With a little self reflection and self awareness, you can at least ensure that you are not damaging your conversations and relationships any further.
Let’s look more closely at four of the bad habits:
1. Are You a Parrot?
Do you find yourself just paraphrasing or repeating what the other person said? If they say, “that was a cool movie!” do you say, “Yeah, that was a really cool movie!”? Parrots act like they are having a conversation, but in reality, they rarely actually offer anything substantive. Parrots rely on echoing and paraphrasing others.
Suggestion: If you find yourself just echoing what they are saying, try to offer substantive opinions or observations as well.
2. Are You an Energy Vampire?
You may have fascinating stories and opinions to share, but if your energy cannot support the comments, people may find you hard to listen to. Lacking energy or emotion when you talk can ruin your conversation faster than almost any other bad habit. Good conversation is alive; good conversation flows with energy between the conversationalists. If you are not adding to the flow of energy, then you are probably subtracting from it.
Suggestions: Think of your voice as a roller coaster ride for your listeners. Are you creating a flat, boring ride? Try to make your roller coaster ride enjoyable for your particular audience; add some vocal drops, some inclines, and vary your speed. Vary your inflections and emphasize key words as well.
Also, record your voice in private. In fact, re-read this section in your normal voice and play it back. If you have never recorded yourself before, you’ll be surprised by what you hear!
3. Are You a Predictable Talker?
The Predictable Talker lives in the serious and literal world. If they get up to use the restroom, and you ask them where they are going, they will always respond, “to the restroom.” Everything they say is predictable; they’ll never surprise you with something unexpected. In contrast, a Playful Talker may respond to that question with a number of unpredictable playful responses. For example, “I thought I’d leave you with the bill,” or “I’m going to pickup that girl,” or “I’m trying to escape.” The best conversation is playful and unpredictable; Predictable Talkers have trouble playing!
Suggestion: Train your mind to start considering the unexpected responses. Next time someone asks you a question or makes a comment, mentally think about what response would be unexpected or unpredictable (within reason!). Once in a while, try one of these unexpected comments and see how you do. You may surprise yourself.
4. Are You a Conversation Narcissist?
Conversation Narcissists love nothing more than to talk about themselves. The only reason they ask the other person a question like, “How was your weekend?” is so they can circle it back around to them again, “that’s nice…let me tell you about what happened to me…” They rarely inquire seriously about the other person or ask follow up questions.
Suggestion: This is easy to fix, be genuinely interested in the other person. When someone tells you something, keep the focus on them, ask follow up questions, recall previous comments the person said, etc.