"My music comes from many, many, many places. My emotions, my feelings, my thoughts, and conversations I have with people I know who influence me." ~ Alicia Keys~
Think of people who seem to bring out the best in you whenever you talk to them. You feel comfortable conversing with them and could go on talking forever. They may be old friends or someone you just met, but the conversation just seems to flow smoothly and naturally. Have you every wished that you had the capacity to talk to strangers and have them instantly warm up to you? If you wish you had the natural ability of making conversation people you admire have, don't despair. Having meaningful conversations is something that can be learned and with focus and practice, we can all become better at this. With enough practice and perseverance, we can all become excellent conversationalists.
Here are five key ideas that will keep us on the right track.
Get out of yourself and make it about the other person
Have you ever had someone talk endlessly about something that you didn't have the slightest interest in? It felt like they were having a conversation with themselves; a monologue, you just happened to be there. These people seem to be oblivious to the idea that you may not share their interest. The best conversations begin with showing an interest in the other person, their world and what they might value. Most people love to talk about themselves. Ask them an open ended question about something that you have notice about them. If you can give them a sincere compliment or give them positive feedback, you've made a great start. Great conversationalists have a sincere interest in others, notice things about people and use these thoughts to start and fuel their conversations.
Practice active listening
Most people are thinking of a response, or something that they want to say when another is still speaking. Become aware of this during your future conversations and when you find your mind going to a response, stop and try to force yourself to listen. This is not easy, especially if you are highly extroverted. You can practice by spending time with your partner, or a friend, by repeating back to them what they just said. This exercise helps create awareness of the amount of time we actually spend active listening with others.
Moving the conversation to a deeper level
Think of the people that you are willing to open up to and share concerns. What is it about them that makes you so comfortable disclosing your thoughts that separates them from others? Likely they are good at making eye contact with you and help you feel like you are receiving their full and undivided attention. Pay attention to their expressions. Notice they are with you not only in the tone of their words, but in their expressions. Their faces light up when you are sharing something you are happy or excited about and take on a solemn, sad look when you are sharing bad news. You sense and feel they are totally engrossed in what you are telling them. If trying this seems unnatural to you, practice and push yourself to do so. Notice that people will start to react differently to you.
Asking good questions
We can encourage others to share more of themselves by showing an interest and asking open ended questions to help them delve deeper into the conversation. Good questions are asking someone how they think or feel about a topic they are discussing. If you have talked to someone before, ask them about events they volunteered in a previous conversation. Likely, if they brought up something on their own, it is of interest and some importance to them. Ask yourself what other areas that are related to their interests they would love to talk about.
Time and space
Never start a conversation beyond exchanging quick pleasantries unless you have the time to hear the other person out. Don't ask someone how they are, unless you have the time to really hear from them. Places that are noisy with a lot of people around are not the best venue to engage in great conversation. Good conversation requires a slow, relaxed pace and a pressure free atmosphere devoid of distractions. Coffee shops are great for this purpose, sports bars not so much.