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Hate Awkward Silences? 10 Essential Tips To Be a Great Conversationalist

Hate Awkward Silences? 10 Essential Tips To Be a Great Conversationalist

For the original full-length article by Celestine: Art of Conversing: Do You Meet these 10 Rules of a Great Conversationalist?

Are you a good conversationalist? What makes someone a good conversationalist?

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Being a good conversationalist is important in every context, be it in business, social, or dating. In the past years, I’ve met a lot of people under different contexts. In particular, my seven-month world trip in Europe and U.S. in 2011 propelled me into hundreds of social circles all around the world. Networking events have long become a norm to me as a business owner and self-directed individual. My recent dating immersion has put me in more dates in one month than I had in the six months prior to that.

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Given that conversing skills is a must-have in today’s world, I thought it would do well to have a piece on how to be a great conversationalist, since I have not written about communication before.

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While I think there is much for me to learn in the area of communication, I’ve been consistently told by friends and acquaintances alike that I’m a great person to speak and relate to. Often times, people tell me that they can’t help but share stuff with me that they don’t ever share with others. I also often have a knack for having drawn-out conversations that could go on forever if not for prior engagements that I and/or the other person have to attend to.

I don’t think there are any “tricks” or shady techniques you have to apply to be a great conversationalist. Below are ten timeless rules I apply to all my conversations:

  1. Be genuinely interested in the person. Who is this person? What’s on his/her mind? What does he/she enjoy doing? What motivates him/her in life? These are the questions I have for every single person I meet. Since people form the core of my life purpose (to help others grow), my genuine interest in people, from who they are to what they do, comes naturally.Such genuine interest, not an artificial one, is essential to making a conversation fly. If you are not interested in the other person, then why speak to him/her to begin with? Move on to someone you really want to talk to. Life is too short to be spent doing things you don’t like.
  2. Focus on the positives. Go for the positive topics. Which means rather than talk about past grievances, opt for a discussion of future goals. Rather than talk about the coffee that spilled on your table this morning, talk about that movie you are looking forward to watch later in the evening. It’s okay to talk about “negative” topics (read: topics that trigger negative emotions) once in a while, but only when you feel it is okay with the other party and when it has a specific purpose (e.g., to get to know the other person better or to bond with the person).Principle #4 of 10 Timeless Principles for Lasting Happiness teaches you how to see the positives over the negatives in every situation.
  3. Converse, not debate (or argue). A conversation should be a platform where opinions are aired, not a battle ground to pit one’s stance against another. Be ready to chat, discuss, and trash out ideas, but do so amiably. There’s no need to have a conclusion or agreement point in every discussion; if a convergence has to be met with everything that is mooted, the conversation would be very draining. Allow for things to be left open-ended if a common point can’t be achieved.
  4. Respect; don’t impose, criticize, or judge. Respect other people’s point of view. Respect other people’s space—don’t encroach on the person’s privacy unless a common bond has been established. Respect other people’s personal choices—don’t criticize or judge. Everyone has his/her right to be him/herself, just as you have the right to be yourself.
  5. Put the person in his/her best light. Always look for ways to make the person look good. Give credit where credit is due. Recognize talent where you see it. Drop compliments where appropriate.  Allow the person to shine in his/her own light.
  6. Embrace differences while building on commonalities. Everyone is different. At the same time, there are always commonalities across people. For the differences, embrace them. They make all of us unique. Agree to disagree if there are clashes in ideas.As you talk to the other person, look for commonalities between you and him/her. Once you find a common link, build on it. Use that as a platform to spin off more discussions which will then reveal more about both of you. For the new commonalities that get unveiled, build on them further.
  7. Be true to yourself. Your best asset is your true personality. Embrace it and let it shine. Don’t cover it up. It’ll be pretty boring if all you do is mime the other person’s words during a conversation; there wouldn’t be anything to discuss at all. Be ready to share your real thoughts and opinions (not in a combative manner of course—see #3). Be proud of what you stand for and be ready to let others know the real you. Read: Finding Your Inner Self
  8. 50-50 sharing. I always think that a great conversation should be made up of equal sharing by both parties. Sometimes it may be 40-60 or 60-40 depending on the circumstances, but by and large, both parties should have equal opportunities to share and contribute to the conversation.What this means is that you should be sensitive enough to pose questions to the other party if you have been talking for a while. (See #9.) It also means that you should take the initiative to share more about yourself if the other party has been sharing for the most part. Just because the person doesn’t ask doesn’t mean you can’t share; sometimes people don’t pose questions because it is not in their natural self to do so.
  9. Ask purposeful questions. Questions elicit answers. The kind of questions you ask will steer the direction of the conversation. To have a meaningful conversation with the other person, ask meaningful questions. Choose questions like, “What drives you in life?”, “What are your goals for the next year?” and “What inspired you to make this change?” over “What did you do yesterday?” and “What are you going to do later?”. Some questions for your perusal: 101 Important Questions To Ask Yourself.Some people may not be ready to take on conscious questions, and that’s fine. Start off with the simple, trivial, everyday questions as you build a rapport. Then, get to know the person better through deeper, more revealing questions—when you think the person is ready to share.
  10. Give and take. Sometimes people say pretty weird stuff during conversations. For example, a critical comment here and there, a distasteful remark, and a bad joke. Don’t judge them for those comments; treat these blurts as Freudian slips. Give them the benefit of doubt (unless clearly proven otherwise). I know that I make some random oddball comments sometimes which leave me wondering why I even did that afterwards. Usually I just laugh or shrug it off; it makes for funny conversation banter.

What do you think makes a great conversationalist? How can you apply these ten tips to be a better conversationalist?

Get the manifesto version of this article: [Manifesto] 10 Rules of a Great Conversationalist
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Celestine Chua

Celestine is the Founder of Personal Excellence where she shares her best advice on how to boost productivity and achieve excellence in life.

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Last Updated on October 14, 2019

12 Inspirational Speeches That Teach You the Most Valuable Life Lessons

12 Inspirational Speeches That Teach You the Most Valuable Life Lessons

The most valuable thing an experienced person has is their experience. People make mistakes, learn from them, and adapt their life around them to become better people. Those people would then tell tales to others to help teach those lessons so that others would not have to make the same mistakes.

People still tell these stories today but in a slightly different format — they use speeches to express their experiences. Here are some valuable life lessons you can learn from some of the greatest inspirational speeches:

1. JK Rowling teaches us to not fear failure no matter how bad things become

It is a well-known fact that JK Rowling’s now-famous Harry Potter series was turned down by several publishers before it was finally picked up. Those publishers are likely kicking themselves in the pants right now. However, before that, JK Rowling was in a fairly dire situation and was on the brink of failure. Despite being turned down time and time again, she kept trying. Her efforts paid off. Harry Potter is now a ubiquitous character in today’s world culture. Despite failing over and over again, Rowling kept trying and fulfilled her dreams. You can watch her deliver some valuable life lessons in her Harvard commencement speech video above.

2. Steve Jobs teaches us to never settle

Steve Jobs had a fairly tumultuous life. He co-founded Apple, was kicked out of the company, came back, and then re-defined the mobile phone space with the iPhone. Even if iPhones aren’t the rage they once were, its iconic value is forever written in stone. One thing Jobs never did was settle. He lived life on his own terms and was rewarded for it by being dubbed one of the most revolutionary voices in technology of our time. In the Stanford commencement speech above, Jobs explains how you should never settle for what someone else wants out of your life. It’s your life and you should do what you want with it.

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3. Admiral William H McRaven teaches us to make our beds every day

Anyone who has gone through the basic training of a military service will tell you it’s pretty difficult. However, every seemingly obnoxious step is actually a life lesson in disguise. This even applies to flawlessly making one’s bed every single morning. As Admiral William H McRaven teaches us, recruits are taught to make their beds every morning to remind them that even the little things in life matter. After all, how can you be expected to handle the biggest obstacles in your life if you can’t even handle the small and the mundane like making your bed every day? You can watch the entire speech in the video above.

4. Author David Foster Wallace teaches us that we’re a part of a greater existence

David Foster Wallace found fame in 1987 with his book The Broom of the System. Nearly 20 years later in 2005 he game a commencement speech at Kenyon College that is worth listening to at least once. In his speech, he reminds us that was are but a part of a huge, dynamic, ever changing interaction of life forms. In order to truly experience life, we need to leave our personal bubbles and interact with others even if it’s in an unpleasant way. Wallace states, “It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.” You can watch the whole speech above.

5. Stephen Colbert teaches us that life isn’t something you can plan

If there is anyone who knows about improvisation, it’s comedian Stephen Colbert. In his commencement speech at Northwestern University in 2011, Colbert reminded students that you cannot plan life. Life throws too many curve balls. There are too many unpredictable things that can happen. The most successful and happy people are not those who have a plan, but those who can roll with the punches and overcome the obstacles. He goes on to site his time as an improv comic and how all of the actors working together to create a scene out of literally nothing are all working for one another. He states that like improv comedy, you don’t know what happens next in life. You just make it up as you go along. You can watch the whole speech above.

6. Kurt Vonnegut teaches us to not sweat the small stuff

Some of our younger readers may not know Kurt Vonnegut. He is a famous author that found of of his success during the middle of last century. In 1999, Kurt Vonnegut was at Agnes Scott College giving a commencement speech. During the speech, he mentioned that in order to live a more complete life, people needed to let stuff go. He argued that you cannot reasonably expect others to forgive you for your mistakes if you cannot forgive others and that you cannot live life fostering a personal vendetta against others.

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7. Neil Gaiman teaches us that success can be distracting.

Neil Gaiman is most known for his work in a number of literary mediums including journalism, comic books, and novels. In 2012, Gaiman gave a speech at the University of the Arts where he talked about success. He stated that when you become successful, you may be unintentionally swayed from performing the actions that made you successful. Gaiman recalled his early success and how he felt pressured to answer emails all day long and it actually prevented him from writing as much as he wanted. So he reminds us to keep doing what makes us successful and to not let others get in the way.

8. Barack Obama’s life lessons teaches us that you really can beat the odds

We know that not everyone likes Barack Obama but that doesn’t mean the man can’t deliver an amazing speech. In this 2004 keynote speech at the Democratic National Convenction, Obama reminds that it is possible to beat the odds and become something great. He cites his own upbringing as an example and how he was never expected to make it as far as he did. It shows that when you’re passionate about something and when you try hard enough, you can accomplish almost anything. It’s important to note that Obama talks about this in 2004 and would become the President of the United States just four years later.

9. Robin Roberts reminds us that we each have the courage to overcome challenges

Robin Roberts knows a thing or two about courage. She is a breast cancer survivor and has done battle with a rare blood disease called myelodysplastic syndrome. Her sister once had to donate bone marrow just so Robin could remain alive. She was also ESPN’s first African American broadcaster in the early 1990’s. She’s a woman who works in an industry predominately populated by men. So when Robin Roberts takes the stage at the ESPYs and delivers a short lecture on having courage, we would do well to listen!

10. Martin Luther King Jr. reminds us that some things are more important than success

We all know the story of Martin Luther King Jr. So much so that we have a day of the year to celebrate him as a national holiday here in the United States. Most of us have listening to segments of his famous speech where he told the world about a dream he had. The main message of his famous speech is that racial inequalities needed to end and he was absolutely right. However, he also reminds us that there are things that are more important than success such as equal rights and treating each other with respect and kindness. If you somehow made it through school without watching the famous speech, we’ve got it linked above.

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11. Jim Carrey reminds us that even if you keep it safe, you can still fail so you might as well go big

Jim Carrey delivered a commencement speech at Maharishi University recently that went absolutely viral. You may know it as the one minute video that will change your life. They weren’t lying but they weren’t telling the whole truth because the speech was actually 28 minutes long. During the speech, Carrey talks about his father who wanted to be a comedian but decided to take the safe route and become an accountant. As it turns out, his father was laid off and his family ended up poor anyway. With that, Carrey tells us that you can still end up failing even if you play it safe so you might as well swing for the fences and do what you want to do.

12. Bill Murray teaches us that it’s the hard times that determine if someone really loves you

You may have heard the story about Bill Murray crashing someone’s bachelor party and delivering a speech. It turns out the speech was both short and fairly epic. During the speech, Bill Murray challenged the bachelors to travel around the world with the women they love and go to places that are difficult to go to and deal with. He says if you can get back to the United States and you still love each other, then you should get married right then and there. It’s a great message. It’s easy to love one another when times are good but do you still love each other when the times are bad? If so, that’s true love according to Bill Murray.

Final thoughts

Inspiration comes from everywhere and from anyone. There are a countless number of speeches and stories that can teach us an incalculable number of life lessons.

All these speeches almost share the same message: Don’t be afraid to fail and keep trying.

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If you also want to live your best life like the above successful people, this is what you should start doing:

You’ll Only Live Your Best Life Once You Step Out

At the end of the day, everything is inspirational. It’s just a matter of finding the message that we need to hear to change our lives.

Featured photo credit: Miguel Henriques via unsplash.com

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