How to Become Better at Conversations

Conversations are the social lubricant that makes relationships, moving ahead professionally, generating new clients and settling lawsuits easier. Whether it’s a general “get to know you” conversation or a specific conversation for a particular topic, the more skilled and comfortable you are with conversations the better off you will be.

We need to know someone, or at least feel we know them before we trust them, and trust is key to relationships. Conversation allows us to start getting to know one another, potentially putting you on the path to being trusted. When involved in a negotiation or mediation the other party should understand you’re doing what you can to help your client but believe you enough to understand you’re a professional and they can work with you.

Some of us are, because of our personalities, more comfortable with conversations. For some, it’s easier to put themselves “out there” and risk possible indifference or rejection by the other party. Conversations, with practice, become more comfortable, better and more productive.

There are many ways to start a conversation and keep it going.

  • Ask open-ended questions, not questions that can be answered with a yes or no. Asking how or why should get a more extended response than a when. Depending on how you word a what question you may get a longer answer.
  • Ask purposeful questions. What are their goals? What do they want to accomplish? What drives them to do what they do? What did they do in the past and if it’s something different than what they do now, why the change?
  • Show genuine interest and make the conversation about the other person, not you. Most people would rather be the focus of attention than hear another person blabber on about their life. That focus on them makes them feel special, appreciated and valued. You could also be perceived as generous for giving them the opportunity to talk and smart because you’re so perceptive.
  • Talk about positive things, at least at the outset, to get things started. If you have shared challenges in your life, talk about your approaches and how well they worked. Try to make the conversation a learning experience the two of you could learn from. It also shows you have something in common which may help start an ongoing relationship.
  • Don’t get into a debate or argument. If you’re on opposite ends of an issue, don’t try to recruit the other person to your viewpoint. Learn from the person to better understand him or her. Why do they have this position? Why do they have a particular perspective? Talk about the things you have in common not the opinions you don’t.
  • Put the person in a good light. Politely, appropriately compliment the person for something.
  • Be authentic and honest. No one wants to spend time with a huckster or a fake.
  • Take pauses and don’t fear a little silence. No one wants to talk to a chatterbox either.
  • Be open to more in-depth conversations but don’t overshare personal information the other person may be uncomfortable with.
  • If you’re shy, don’t underestimate the value of what you have to share. If it’s hard to talk about yourself, ask questions of others. The better you know someone, the more comfortable you may be talking to the person.

Don’t back away from conversations. Jump in and do your best. The more conversations you have, the more efficient you’ll be in communicating and developing relationships.