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The Mindset and Techniques You Need to Become a Great Conversationalist

The Mindset and Techniques You Need to Become a Great Conversationalist

You're on a first date, and all is going smoothly until suddenly… you find yourself running out of things to say.

It's as if your mind has taken a siesta. However hard you try, you can't find the words that you'd like to say. And by the look on your potential partner's face – they're now thinking of making an excuse to leave!

Losing the ability to think and speak in social interactions can be highly embarrassing. If you've ever suffered from this problem, then read on to discover what you can do about it.

It Isn't That You Have Nothing to Say. Just You Set a Filter in Your Mind.

Conversation should flow freely between individuals.

It's normal to have one party talk more than the other, but if you find yourself stuck for words, then you've probably allowed a mental block to prevent you from expressing yourself.

Mental blocks (or filters) can hold back your conversational skills. They are the equivalent of a blockage in a water pipe. Without the blockage, water flows freely. With the blockage, water struggles to make it through to its destination.

Think about this: Do you believe that all conversations should be meaningful or interesting? If you do, then in your mind, you're probably always looking to shut down small talk and trivial chatter.

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Small talk may seem inane to you, but it's often the fuel that lights up deeper conversations. If you believe small talk to be foolish, then unconsciously you'll keep guessing how others judge your speech. This means you will be self-censoring everything you say.

While being aware of whether we talk too much is a good thing, if you find yourself struggling for words, then you've probably gone to the other extreme.

For example, you've gone along to a housewarming party, and most of the guests are strangers to you. You'd love to spark up a conversation, but you don't know where to begin. Your mind keeps telling you… Say something interesting. Sound intelligent. Be funny!

It's this type of intense mental pressure that can prevent you from speaking openly and spontaneously.

Perhaps you're worrying too much, however…

Don't Be Too Concerned About What You Say, as Your Words Will Soon Be Forgotten.

Most people have a tendency to think too much about themselves. They are overly conscious of what they wear, what they do, and what they say.

Let me ask you this question: Do you remember everything your friends said at lunch a few days ago?

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Probably not. But you don't need to worry.

The vast majority of people are prone to quickly forgetting day-to-day conversations. It's normal. If we had to remember every word that everyone ever spoke – our memory banks would be bursting at the seams!

Actually, it's good news that most conversations are swiftly forgotten. This means that we don't need to pay too much attention to what we say. Put another way, we can speak freely – without worrying whether we're saying the right things.

Of course, if you say something offensive, that will be remembered. (Please avoid this.) However, trivial and funny comments are likely to drift from people's minds like an unanchored boat.

When it comes to conversations, you should also consider that the other person may be struggling to find something to say. You can help them out by always having something to tell – even if it's frivolous. And by continually having plenty to say, you'll likely be regarded as a great conversationalist.

If you have nothing to say, people will remember you for this. And unfortunately, their impression of you is unlikely to be favorable.

Conversation Is Easy and Natural When You Use These 3 Techniques

Would you like to boost your conversational skills? If yes, then you're in the right place.

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Here are three techniques you can use to develop confident and free-flowing interpersonal communications.

1. Start with topics that everyone can contribute to

It's a terrible feeling discovering that others are finding your conversation boring or silly. However, it's usually not your conversation that is the problem – but your chosen topic.

Let's say you've gone to lunch for the first time with a work colleague. Before they have chance to initiate a conversation, you immediately begin talking about your young children, the school they go to, and the problems you have with some of their behavior. The disinterested look on your colleague's face tells a story. Namely, they don't have children of their own – and they don't find conversations about children interesting either.

A better approach to this scenario, is to ask open questions. Such as: Are you enjoying working here? Where did you work before? How's your commute?

These types of questions are much more engaging and relevant. And your colleague is sure to have plenty to say in response to each of them. You'll have an interesting conversation, without effort or struggle from either of you.

2. Remind yourself that communication is like playing table tennis

Questions are great for kick-starting conversations. However, just like in a game of table tennis (aka ping pong), the best conversations involve regular back and forth between the participants.

Table tennis also acts as a good illustration of what constitutes agreeable conversations. During a game, each player will try to use a variety of playing styles (e.g., blocks, loops and smashes). This keeps the game lively and challenging. Conversations should follow a similar pattern. For instance, try alternating your side of a conversation with: questions -> comments -> sharing.

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As an example for you, imagine that you've been forced to share a table with a stranger in a busy café. You're initially reluctant to talk, but the other person seems friendly and open to conversation.

You could start with a question: "Do you come here often?" Depending on their reply, you could comment: "Yes, I can see why. It's a great coffee shop." You could then move on to sharing something about yourself: "I'm actually just here to get a caffeine boost before my job interview at 10 a.m."

I'm sure you get the idea. Questions… comments… sharing.

3. Realize that you don't need to know a lot of things to be a great conversationalist

Nobody likes a know-it-all. These people can dominate conversations, and make other feel uneducated and second-class.

To be a great conversationalist, you don't need tons of facts, you just need good stories. And what are the best stories? Personal experiences that others can easily relate to.

For instance, most people would be interested in hearing you tell stories about your holiday to New York, Rome or Tokyo. Especially, if you were to reveal funny incidents, inspiring moments and cultural differences. You could talk about an amazing meal, a stunning view – or even just how expensive everything was!

One of the secrets to being a great storyteller, is to evoke an emotional response in your listeners. You can do this by talking about your feelings. You can also flavor your language with sights, smells, sounds and tastes.

Knowledge and facts can often fall on deaf ears, but feelings and emotions are common shared experiences. Whatever the topic, we can all relate to emotive stories.

Interpersonal communications can be fun, friendly and worthwhile, if you practice the above techniques. You'll boost your self-confidence, and others will begin to see you as an expert conversationalist.

More by this author

Craig J Todd

Freelance Writer helping businesses and people to thrive.

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Last Updated on February 21, 2019

How to Use More of Your Brain to Become More Productive and Happy

How to Use More of Your Brain to Become More Productive and Happy

To answer the question how to use more of your brain, I want to share my story about overloading my brain….

I’m not a morning person. I always hoped that when I grew up, I’d become that person who was magically “on” (happy and productive) the second my eyes opened. You know, like the old guy in Jerry McGuire who wakes up, claps his hands and says “Today is going to be a great day!”

Adults are supposed to be morning people, right? We’re supposed to be able to use our brains and be productive members of society right out of the gate, waking with smiles on our faces with hearts full of gratitude.

That’s the pressure I’ve always put on myself anyway–that I should feel excited and grateful in the morning. But if I’m being honest, I’ve never felt that way. And generally, my mornings kind of suck…

I wake up everyday with a three year old pulling on my arm (or if I’m not so lucky she’s pulling up the lid of my eye) telling me it’s time to get out of bed because I’m officially on duty as her personal chef, stylist, and chauffeur. (I mean, I’m basically her glorified celebrity handler). Most days, it’s a battle of wills, struggling to get her to put on pants and get in the car and usually I resort to sugar-laced bribes just to keep my sanity.

Suffice to say, by the time I get home from taking her to school, I feel spent and quite honestly, stupid. As a mom of a preschooler, I feel like my brain is operating in “react” mode so much of the morning that I forget it’s possible for me to be an intentional, productive person in the AM hours.

I thought working from home would be easier in this way, but it turns out it’s actually a lot easier to not be productive without the positive peer pressure of other hyper-focused adults visibly working hard at their computers around me.

So what winds up happening is I get home and find it hard not to get on my computer and let my inbox send me on whatever trip my brain decides it wants to go on in that moment.

No plan, no focus, I’m just…doing stuff…I think? At least I’m fighting the urge to go back to bed, I tell myself. I’m being a grown up.

Most mornings I’ve felt like a failure as an adult because of this chronic morning brain fog. So recently I’ve been trying to figure out why I still feel like a 17-year old recovering from mono who can’t get out of bed for first period.

I’m not depressed. My life is good. I love my work.

So why is it so hard for me to follow through on doing things I want to do at a reasonable, productive “adult” hour? I couldn’t help but wonder…what is wrong with me?

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1. Focus on WHEN: The Forgotten Four-Letter Word

It turns out, I may have been asking the wrong questions. Instead of asking WHAT is wrong with me and WHY can’t I, the question I forgot to ask, and the question we all need to be asking is WHEN.

It all became a little more clear when my husband brought home a book called WHEN: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel Pink.

According to chronobiology experts, it’s very possible that a lot of our brain power, productivity and even happiness doesn’t necessary stem from what we are doing, but WHEN we are doing it.

Imagine you’re on a relaxing vacation for a week. No meetings. No kids or obligations. It’s just you, a cozy bed, and your whims. What time do you go to bed, knowing you can sleep in as late as you want and nap as much as you want the following day? Got it? Great.

Next, what time would you wake up, by choice?

Now take the time you’d ideally go to bed and the time you’d ideally wake up and find the time exactly halfway between the two. That time will tell you if you’re an “early bird” (or Lark), a Night Owl, OR, neither. Turns out 65% of us are what chronobiologists have come to call “Third Birds”—somewhere in the middle.

Once you determine your “type,” you can start planning your day’s activities based on the right time for your brain—or WHEN you’re best cognitively equipped for that type of task, based on science.

According to Pink and the research, knowing WHEN you are going to perform your best on certain tasks can be an absolute game-changer. For example, say you have an important exam that’s full of analytical questions: Larks and Third Birds are going to perform better on those sorts of tasks in the morning, but Owls are going to perform far better on analytical tasks in the late afternoon or evening.

Knowing when you’re in the ideal state to be your most productive self can make the tasks you do easier and relieve unnecessary stress.

Bottom-line is when it comes to using more of your brain and being happier overall, it may be more of a question of knowing your nature, asking WHEN, and leaning into your natural rhythm rather than constantly fighting it.

2. Manage the Impact of Technology on Your Brain

I’d be remiss, in today’s digital age, if I didn’t bring up the impact technology is having on our brains, productivity, and our general sense of well-being. I mean, the one thing I didn’t mention in my description of my morning is that I’m constantly fighting the urge to check my email or do work while I’m feeding, dressing and wrangling my three year old off to school.

It feels like a compulsive thing, like I can’t help myself from looking at my phone even though I know there’s nothing that can’t wait. If I have a “free” second, I feel the need to do SOMETHING (more accurately, HOLD something).

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It would be easy to posit that technology is a dirty, addictive brain-cell killer and I’m sure I’d find plenty of evidence to support that assertion, but the undeniable truth is that technology has enabled us to get so much more done in such a shorter period of time.

We no longer have to drive 30 minutes each way to a brick-and-mortar retailer to buy miscellaneous items, we can order them it in less than a minute with one tap. So when it comes to productivity, I feel like all of the good technology has done is not trumped by the bad.

That being said, there’s a flip side to the world literally being at our fingertips–especially when it comes to our cognitive abilities. The question on my mind is:

Now that our brains are able to get more information, or input, instantaneously because of how readily available it is, are we actually able to process all of this information without overload?

According to the experts, there’s a false belief among consumers that technology is helping us be better multitaskers, but it’s just not true. The fact is we’re not capable of successfully giving our focus to more than one thing at a time.[1]

Multitasking, at least for humans, is a myth.

So what is actually happening is this:

We think we can be more productive by using our phones to multitask but this leads us to spend more and more time on our phones where we usually get distracted by the overwhelming human need for connection.

One of the expert panelists, Larry Rosen, a research psychologist, explained how technology can actually make us feel chronically anxious because:

“we are feeling a lot of pressure that we have to connect, that we feel a responsibility to connect, and that’s the anxiety-provoking part.”

It’s really this innate desire for connection, for feeling a part of the “tribe” if you will, that leads us to what sometimes looks and feels like technology addiction. But according to Rosen “addiction should give us some sort of a good feeling, a pleasurable feeling.”

But since most of us don’t feel a “high” from being glued to our screens, he believes technology is more like an obsession or compulsion, since we feel a constant need to “check in.”

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The experts also agree that all of this “multitasking” and information overload has had consequences on how we learn and retain information because it’s just simply not possible for our brains to focus on so many different things at once.

So we have this desire to be productive, and an even deeper desire for connection, but a lot of the time our devices distract us from doing either very well.

3. Give Your Brain a Rest

I don’t know about you but my brain hurts from all of that tech talk. Luckily, I have the perfect remedy and if you love coffee and sleep as much as I do, you’re about to have a deep desire to hug me through your computer screen (but thank Dan Pink, I’m just passing this gem on).

If you’re feeling like your brain is fried and your productivity is waning, I’d like to introduce you to your new best friend: The Nappuccino:[2]

    According to the latest research, naps are incredibly beneficial for our brains and overall productivity, but only if done “right.”

    The Nappuccino is the recipe for the perfect nap: Since caffeine takes about 25 minutes to kick in, if you drink a cup of your favorite java, then lay down it takes approximately 5 minutes to fall asleep–giving you the optimal 20 minute snooze sesh (long enough to feel refreshed, but not too long to make you drowsy).

    When to do this, you may be wondering? The Mayo Clinic suggests that the best time for a nap is between 2pm-3pm, when we all typically hit our mid-day slump.

    The best part? You wake up with your caffeine kick in full effect, ready to get back to work.

    You’re welcome!

    If you’re not remotely jazzed about the fact that I just gave you permission to drink coffee and take a nap in the afternoon, you may be one of those people who hate naps.

    Maybe napping makes you feel like a lazy, good for nothing bum and you feel like it’s weak? You may even pride yourself in never taking a lunch break and eating at your desk. If this sounds familiar, you may need to hear this more than anyone:

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    According to Pink and all of the studies, taking lunch (more specifically a social lunch where we connect with someone face-to-face) as well as an afternoon nap, helps us work better, faster and more efficiently. It also helps prevent us from making mistakes.

    As Pink puts it “Breaks are not a sign of sloth, but a sign of strength.”

    And if you still need more proof, a student at Stanford noted in her report on trying the Nappuccino:[3]

    “This process has extended my capacity from measly journal entries to full-on drafts of essays. Thus, I have been proven utterly wrong in my castigation of naps as emblems of counterproductivity.”

    In other words, don’t knock it ‘til you try it!

    The Big Takeaways

    If you’re like most hyper-productive adults and you just scrolled to the bottom to get the gist of this article, I get it, no judgement. As I’ve stated above, our brains can only take in so much. So here’s the bottom line:

    If you want to be more happy, productive, and use your brain more efficiently:

    1. Lean into your unique internal clock and work your WHEN. If you’re a morning person, do the hardest stuff in the AM. If you’re a night person, give yourself permission to not think so hard first thing (and be nice to yourself, okay?)
    2. Focus on one task at a time (our brains can’t multitask, even if our phones can)
    3. Get your fix for connection by talking to other humans in real life (and take a lunch break)
    4. Give your brain a break by unplugging from the screen and treating yourself to an afternoon Nappuccino

    The truth is we don’t need to use more of our brains, we simply need to stop distracting our brains and start understanding them. Most importantly, we need to give our brains a rest so our incredible, life-sustaining, built-in supercomputers can function at their highest potential.

    These days, I’m not so hard on my more “Owly” nature. Somehow cutting myself and my brain some slack and giving it permission to not be “on” in the morning…online that is…has made “adulting” in the AM feel much brighter.

    It may take an hour or two, but eventually, after a couple of cups of coffee, I’m able to clap my hands and say “today is going to be a great day.” And mean it.

    More Resources About Boosting Brain Power

    Featured photo credit: Lucrezia Carnelos via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Computer History Museum: Our Mind’s on Tech: How Technology Affects the Human Brain.
    [2] Daniel Pink: When: Napaccino
    [3] The Standard Daily: The nappuccino

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