If the thought of conducting a conversation with someone conjures up feelings of anxiety then you’re not alone. Some people seem to have a natural ability to spark up interesting and engaging topics of discussion while you feel you struggle to think of anything or even the right thing to say. Perhaps you’ve started a new job and you find it hard to start or carry on conversations with your new colleagues, maybe you want to strike up casual conversation with people but you find the conversation doesn’t really develop.
The biggest misconception when it comes to good conversation is the idea that we need to keep the conversation going by any means possible. However, it’s all about the quality of the conversation rather than the amount you say.
Awkward conversations happen to all of us but there are ways to improve your communication skills that give you a head start on developing easy interactions with people. Much like any other skill, communication needs to be practised in order to build it up, so with some guidance you can start to strike up those conversations with confidence and show your true likability.
How To Improve Communication Skills
1. Ask The Right Type Of Questions
You’ve probably heard that talking too much and not asking questions is a sure-fire way to deaden a conversation. However, it’s all about asking the right type of questions.
Questions that require a certain knowledge background, or are too broad or too difficult to answer in short simplified sentences, can leave the other person feeling uncomfortable and unable to answer. This, in turn, can create that conversational ‘dead air’ and can make it hard for the other person to continue the conversation.
Instead, to communicate in a positive way that allows the conversation to develop and grow, the questions should be simple, relatable and applicable. For example, you could ask something simple like “Are you watching any good TV shows these days?” and then explore more topics from the answers they give.
2. Avoid Negative Talk
One way we feel we can bond with others, either individually or in a group, is to speak negatively. For example, your boss is doing something your department doesn’t like so you take the opportunity to voice your negative opinions.
People who are equally fed up with the boss will join in but be aware that not all people will want to speak in such a negative way – it may not be in their nature or they just don’t want to create a negative environment therefore making it hard for them to respond. It may even hamper how some people perceive you.
While speaking negatively can get things off your chest, make sure you strike a good balance between negative talk and positive. If you’re going to bad-mouth your boss for a decision she’s made, you can go on to say despite this she’s a great boss and you’re sure it’ll work out fine. This will allow you to be more likeable to people because, at the end of the day, no one likes a constant negative talker – it looks bad and doesn’t show your good side.
3. Use Interesting Language
By this I don’t mean you need to know fancy words! However, using plain and somewhat boring words can sometimes be a conversation killer. When describing anything – perhaps somewhere you’ve been or something you’ve done – make sure you don’t use too plain words.
For example, if someone asks about your holiday in Italy, don’t reply with “yes, it was really good!”. As much as it was ‘good’ using more descriptive words like ‘amazing’ or ‘marvellous’ evokes more excitement in the other person and allows them to want to probe further. It indicates that there is more to this story – the person now wants to know why it’s so amazing. ‘Good’ indicates it’s alright and nothing special – and who wants to know more about something that doesn’t sound all that exciting?!
Using more vivid and descriptive words can actually have an added benefit because you are forced to give more descriptions to match the expectations you’ve set up. Practising this will actually help your story-telling abilities in the long term so keep in mind lots of great descriptive words when speaking to people.
4. Don’t Try To Control The Conversation
The need to control a conversation can be the downfall of many. The workplace can create many discussions – a meeting to talk about new ideas or maybe you’re having a debate with someone who has differing opinions to you.
The problem with trying to control a conversation is that we can get very emotionally invested and it often blinds us to the fact that we’re supposed to be having a two-way conversation. If you’re talking about something you’re passionate about, then don’t get personal with the other person – it’s not a competition or a win-lose situation. Don’t focus too much on the differences but instead find commonalities in both arguments.
Create segways not dead ends. Don’t respond with “I disagree” or “that’s ridiculous” because this shuts down your ability to see their point of view even of you really don’t agree. Instead, say “Well, what about this…” and give alternatives that open up airways for them to start talking.
Respect the other person and don’t make them feel bad about their belief. Doing this makes you come across as much more likeable in the long-run and doesn’t compromise your thoughts and beliefs. We all agree none of us like to feel under-minded especially about something we believe in and by using this tactic the person is more likely to reciprocate the respect.
5. Demonstrate Empathy
It’s important to think about how we come across to others when we speak. Being sincere, for example, can sometimes come across as being impolite or offensive to someone. Be aware of the way in which others can interpret what you’re saying and by this I mean demonstrate a level of empathy.
Try to be understanding of others’ situations or experiences and take this into account when speaking to someone. People are far more likely to feel a connection to you and form longer and in depth conversations which will go towards developing your communication skills further.
Don’t make the conversation all about you either. It’s very easy to hop on the bandwagon when a particular topic comes up because you’re so excited that you have a topic to talk about. For example, if someone mentions they visited China, don’t immediately rush into a huge story about the time you went to China two years ago.
By doing this, you’ve now dominated their own conversation starter and taken away their chance to talk about what they wanted to say in the first place! Think about the other person when you talk – most of the time the person you talk to will follow suit and this can be the start of a beautiful conversation!
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