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The Act of Conversation ...

How did your first week of the new year go? We hope it was everything you wanted it to be – and included being marvelously well-mannered. And if you are one to make New Year’s resolutions, we hope that you made progress on that front!

Many people are resolving to get back into the swing of things in terms of re-connecting with friends, meeting new people, being more social and getting out and about more. We think that these are marvelous resolutions. One skill that can help in all of these scenarios is being a marvelous conversationalist.

This skill helps you better interact with family, with friends, with work colleagues and with people you’ve just met. You feel confident, comfortable and at ease when you know how to converse well. Others are drawn to you because you’re interesting and fun to be around. Then you take that positive energy and force-multiple it into other areas of your life. And things just get better. How marvelous is that?

You already know that being well-read and up on the latest current events helps one have something to talk about. And you’ve likely heard the saying,

“It takes a lot of effort to look effortless.”

So if you want to be a marvelous conversationalist, you should put effort into compiling a trove of topics to talk about. That may mean setting aside time before a social event to read the newspaper, listen to an episode of a popular podcast, remind yourself of the name of the book you are reading and its author (assuming you’re like us and often forget those vital bits of information), watching the latest video series, or scan social media for the latest trending topics. Actively compiling things to talk about is excellent first step – but it should not be your only step.

Here are our best three tips to follow when you are actually at the social event:

First, don’t monopolize the conversation. Sometimes in our zeal to connect with others and be that social butterfly we talk, a lot. It is understandable, especially if you’ve taken the time to prepare a list of things to talk about. But conversations are dialogues – not monologues. Make sure you let the other person contribute to the conversation.

Second, pick up on the signals the other person is sending. In general, interrupting is something we should try to avoid – but often in the give and take of a dynamic, lively conversation it happens a bit. That’s ok. It really is. But if someone repeatedly interrupts you, it actually may not be a symbol of their rudeness. It may be a signal that you’ve been talking for too long and no one can get a word in edgewise. Oh dear. If that’s the case, please let them talk and contribute to the conversation.

Third, ask a question and then a follow-up question. While you may have a whole trove of subjects to talk about, make sure you express interest in the other person and engage in the topics they want to discuss. You merely reclaiming the floor and talking about their topic doesn’t cut it. You need to engage with them and draw them into the conversation. Asking a follow-up question (or two) on their topics of choice is an excellent way to reinforce to them that you are truly interested in what them. And that is a nice feeling. And when they feel good when they’re talking to you – they’ll think you are a great conversationalist – even if you are actually talking less!

These three tips help you be a better conversationalist by encouraging you to listen more. You can’t ask a solid follow-up question if you haven’t been listening! And listening is an important part of being a marvelous conversationalist. If you’re worried you monopolize conversations try taking an inventory of your most recent conversation by asking yourself:

· Did I talk more than the other person – by a significant degree?

· Did I respond with my own story as opposed to asking a question that required more than a “yes” or “no” answer?

· Was I repeatedly interrupted – and did I just steamroll over them to finish my point?

If you answered yes to all of these, try to develop a formula for your next conversation. Make sure over the course of the conversation you ask a certain number of questions. How many? You pick depending on the length of the conversation. But our recommendation to help ensure you start the conversation off on the right foot is to ask two follow-up questions within the first few minutes. (Note, true small talk - with someone you don't know very well will necessarily mean more questions and less long story-telling on your part during what is by definition a fairly short conversation).

Soon you will be able to determine the proper cadence of a conversation. It will feel right.

It’s important to do this because you don’t want to ask so many questions that you turn yourself into an inquisitor and make the person uncomfortable as you pepper them with questions.

A good rule of thumb is that if by the time the conversation is over you haven’t learned at least a few new pieces of information you monopolized the conversation and need to tweak your approach.

There is no hard, fast rule of the "proper" numbers of questions to ask per length of conversation or how long you can talk before being branded a bore. What's important here is that you start thinking of the flow of your conversations, actively engaging others with questions and taking to heart that being a marvelous conversationalist means sharing the floor with others.

Being a marvelous conversationalist is a skill. Like any other skill it takes practice. And post pandemic many people feel a bit rusty in their in-person socialization skills. So take heart, you need not be perfect – or even practically perfect. Just resolve this new year to go into all future conversations with a few topics in your back pocket, a generous spirit and interest in the other person.

And remember,

“To talk well and eloquently is a very great art, but that an equally great one is to know the right moment to stop.”Mozart Wolfgang Amadeus

Have a marvelous week -


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