Something I practice on a daily basis are my skills as a conversationalist. I believe having good conversation is the foundation for building good relationships and leaving positive impressions. I could tell you a list of practical reasons those things are important to me (and probably important to you), but I can sum it up simply. I want people to like me and I believe there are more opportunities in life for people who are liked.
A little back story: growing up I didn’t do so well in school. This resulted in me feeling a need to validate my worth by proving I was intelligent and competent, in almost everything. This mindset of my value being attached to my intelligence and competence, led me to become a bit of a talker.
I’m not gonna say this is all bad. This need to prove my intelligence and competence forced me to really think about my point of view and be able to create logical lines of thought at a moment’s notice. It also helped me become comfortable (even enjoy) getting up in front of groups and talking.
Where it holds me back is when I meet new people or I am trying to form deeper relationships. Needing to prove my worth by “showing you” how intelligent and competent I am doesn’t bode too well for leaving a lasting, good impression and it certainly doesn’t help build deeper, more authentic relationships.
Before any technique or strategy, I believe the most important step to become a better conversationalist is to determine what you are currently doing (your default) and trying to understand what is motivating that action. By becoming aware of your default way of showing up, you are able to better identify when it is taking over. This is important whether you talk too much, like me, or hide, not saying a word or ever opening yourself up at all.
So what am I doing to become a better conversationalist?
There are a few things I am actively trying to do in each of my conversations to become a better conversationalist. Here are a few:
- Listen more than I talk: This may seem obvious, but it is hard to do (at least for me). It requires me to think less about my own commentary or opinion on what is being said and pay more attention to what is being said and what follow up questions to ask next. A practical strategy I am using is asking a question then following that up with 3 clarifying questions. I regularly do self-assessments, but on occasion have asked a friend to be conscious of my listening to talking ratio and debrief with me about it after an event.
- Be genuinely interested: This is where I tap into my inner curiosity. No matter who I am talking to I try to remind myself that they have a unique perspective, insight, and experience from which I can learn. This helps me ask genuine questions instead of forced questions. I believe most people will know if I am uninterested.
- Ask better questions: A good question leads to a good answer. By asking better questions, being genuinely interested won’t be difficult because I will be getting better, more interesting answers. I try to spend time asking both divergent and convergent questions to get a range of different kinds of answers. I also reflect on questions I ask to determine which ones and types regularly get good responses.
- Be authentic: This applies to both asking questions and talking. But specifically looking at when I am talking, I try to be as authentic as I know to be. If I don’t know anything about a topic I am not gonna make up stories about it (I struggle with this). Instead I may share my understanding of the topic, as naive as it may be, and ask for clarity to help me understand better. No matter my understanding or experience level, I try to share my perspective in a way that isn’t conclusive but invites more conversation.
This is a list of things I am working on. I am far from being unconsciously competent in any one of these areas, but I am consciously practicing them everyday.
Do you have any strategies or techniques you use to improve your conversational skills? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below or on Twitter, @timothygmcgee.