Conversing with others is a fundamental part of our daily lives. Whether it’s a casual chat with neighbors, networking with new colleagues, or having a heart-to-heart talk with a close friend, effective communication is key.
Sadly, lack of conversation skills is a huge problem that affects many of us.
Some stark examples include:
- Poor communication skills are the leading cause of romantic breakups
- A staggering two-thirds of managers feel uncomfortable communicating
- Text anxiety, or generally overthinking and stressing out over how to approach digital messaging is becoming a very real and growing problem for many of our incoming Jaunty students
In this post, we’ll share practical tips and strategies to sharpen your ability to communicate while simultaneously reducing social anxiety. Ready to elevate your conversational prowess? Let’s dive in!
1. Practice Active Listening
Active listening is a crucial part of effective communication. It’s not just about hearing the words that are being said, but also understanding the message behind them. When you practice active listening, you show the other person that you value their thoughts and opinions. This can help build trust and rapport.
Active listening involves showing that you’re engaged in the conversation. You can do this by nodding your head, maintaining eye contact, and using verbal cues like “uh-huh” or “I see”. Remember, active listening is a skill that takes practice.
Active listening demands significant concentration and determination, but many people struggle with poor listening habits that can be challenging to overcome. However, by committing to change, it’s possible to break these ingrained patterns and enhance one’s communication abilities. To practice active listening, focus on the speaker, avoid distractions, and respond appropriately. Don’t rush to come up with your own reply while the other person is still talking. Instead, take the time to understand their point of view before responding.
Here are five essential techniques to help cultivate active listening skills:
- Pay full attention to the speaker.
- Offer visual and verbal cues to demonstrate that you’re genuinely engaged in the conversation.
- Provide feedback to clarify misunderstandings and show that you comprehend the message.
- Withhold judgment until all information is presented, allowing for an open-minded understanding.
- Respond appropriately to ensure a productive and respectful dialogue.
By integrating these active listening techniques into daily interactions, not only can one become a more effective communicator, but it can also lead to better work-life balance, productivity, and developing stronger relationships.
2. Maintain Eye Contact and Use Body Language
Non-verbal communication is just as important as verbal communication in a conversation. Your body language can convey a lot about your feelings and attitudes.
By maintaining eye contact and using positive body language, you can show the other person that you’re interested and engaged in the conversation. However, be careful not to stare as it can make the other person uncomfortable. The key is to maintain a natural and relaxed eye contact.
In addition to eye contact, other aspects of body language like gestures, posture, and facial expressions also play a crucial role in communication. For instance, leaning in slightly can show that you’re interested in what the other person is saying. On the other hand, crossing your arms can give off a defensive or closed-off vibe.
3. Speak Clearly and Confidently
The way you speak can greatly influence how your message is received. Speaking clearly and confidently can help ensure that your message is understood.
To speak clearly, use simple and concise language. Avoid using jargon or complex words that the other person may not understand. Also, make sure to articulate your words properly. Slurring or mumbling can make it difficult for the other person to understand you.
Confidence can make your message more persuasive and impactful. However, confidence doesn’t mean being arrogant or domineering. It’s about expressing your thoughts and opinions in a respectful and assertive manner. If you’re nervous about speaking, practice can help. You can practice speaking in front of a mirror or record yourself to identify areas for improvement.
4. Ask Insightful Questions
Asking questions is a great way to keep the conversation going and show your interest in the other person. However, not all questions are appropriate for all situations. Insightful questions can stimulate deeper and more meaningful conversations.
Open-ended questions encourage the other person to share their thoughts and feelings. For instance, instead of asking “Did you like the movie?”, you can ask “What did you like about the movie?” or “How did the movie make you feel?”.
Insightful questions can also help you learn more about the other person and build a stronger connection with them. However, be careful not to turn the conversation into an interrogation. The key is to ask questions naturally and genuinely show interest in the other person’s responses.
5. Be Open-minded and Inclusive
Being open-minded and inclusive is crucial for effective communication. It’s important to challenge your preconceived notions and respect diverse views and opinions, even if they differ from your own. This doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything the other person says. But it’s important to listen to their perspective and respond in a respectful and considerate manner. This can help foster a safe and comfortable environment for conversation.
Being inclusive means making sure everyone in the conversation feels heard and valued. This is especially important in group conversations. Make sure to include everyone in the conversation and value their contributions. Remember, a good conversation is a two-way street.
It’s not only about expressing your own thoughts, ideas, and opinions. Good conversations require listening and understanding the other person.
6. Broaden Your Interests
Having a wide range of interests and regularly participating in social activities can make you a more interesting conversation partner. It can provide you with a variety of topics to discuss and can help you connect with different types of people.
To broaden your interests, try exploring new subjects, reading different types of books, or learning about different cultures. This can not only improve your conversation skills, but also enrich your personal life.
However, it’s important to be genuine in your interests. Don’t pretend to be interested in something just to impress others. People can usually tell when you’re being insincere, so pursue interests that genuinely fascinate you.
7. Use Nonverbal Communication
Nonverbal communication is a powerful tool in conversations. It includes things like facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice. These nonverbal cues can convey a lot about your feelings and attitudes. By understanding and reacting to these cues, you can enhance your conversation skills.
For instance, if the other person’s body language is closed off (like crossed arms or averted gaze), they might be feeling uncomfortable or defensive. In such cases, you might need to change your approach or topic of conversation. On the other hand, if their body language is open and relaxed, they’re likely enjoying the conversation.
8. Engage in Regular Practice
Like any other skill, conversation skills require practice. The more you practice, the better you’ll get. This could be with your friends, family, colleagues, or even strangers. Each conversation is a chance to learn and improve.
Don’t be discouraged by awkward moments or mistakes. They’re part of the learning process. Instead, learn from them and keep practicing. Over time, you’ll become more comfortable and confident in your conversation skills.
If you’re looking for more ways to practice improving your conversation skills, consider working with a social skills coach who can help you focus on your specific needs and situation.
9. Adopt the Spokes Method
The Spokes Method was created by social skills coach, Jeff Callahan, and it’s a useful strategy for keeping conversations flowing. It involves starting with a central topic and branching out to related discussions. It’s also useful if the conversation seems to have hit a dead end.
If you start talking about a new movie but someone hasn’t seen it yet, you can smoothly branch out to topics like the actors, the director, similar movies, and so on, by using the Spokes Method.
However, it’s important to keep the other person’s interests in mind. If they seem uninterested in a topic, it’s best to steer the conversation towards something they’re more interested in. Remember, the goal is to have a mutually enjoyable conversation.
How To Use The Spokes Method To Keep The Conversation Going
The Spokes Method involves “thinking around the topic.” This approach lets you pivot from a main subject to related topics, making conversation feel fluid and expansive.
For instance, when someone mentions “cooking”, consider these spokes:
- Popular TV Shows: “Do you watch any cooking shows like MasterChef or The Great British Bake Off?”
- Types of Cuisine: “What’s your favorite type of cuisine to cook? Italian, French, Asian?”
- Ingredients: “Have you tried cooking with [ingredient, e.g., quinoa or saffron]?”
Dig deeper into their experience:
- “How did you get into cooking?”
- “Have you ever thought of taking a cooking class or attending a workshop?”
- “What’s the most complex dish you’ve made?”
Encourage them to share more by assuming the role of a novice:
- “I’ve always wanted to get better at cooking [type of food].”
- “Any tips for a [cooking style] beginner like me?”
10. Play Conversation Games
Conversation games can be a fun and effective way to improve your conversation skills. These games can help you practice asking questions, expressing your thoughts, and listening to others. They can also help you learn how to handle different types of conversation scenarios.
How To Play “20 Questions”
There are many different types of conversation games you can try. For instance, “20 Questions” is a classic game that can help you practice asking open-ended questions.
- One person thinks of an item or object
- The other person has up to 20 questions to guess what it is
- The catch? They can only ask yes-or-no questions
How To Play “Two Truths And A Lie”
“Two Truths and a Lie” is another fun game that can stimulate interesting conversations and help you become more discerning and sharpen your perception of others.
- Each person states three things about themselves
- Two of the statements are true and one of them is a lie
- Each person then has to guess which statement was the lie
11. Notice and Build on Details
Paying attention to details can take your conversation skills to the next level. This involves noticing subtle details in your surroundings or in the conversation itself. These details can provide you with valuable “conversation fodder” to keep the discussion going.
If you notice that the other person has a unique piece of jewelry, you can ask them about it. This can lead to an interesting conversation about their taste in fashion, their travels, or their hobbies.
Building on details also involves expanding on the topics that come up in the conversation. For instance, if the other person mentions that they like hiking, you can ask them about their favorite hiking spots, their most challenging hikes, or their hiking gear. This can help deepen the conversation and make it more engaging.
12. Embrace Nonviolent Communication
Nonviolent communication is a communication method that promotes understanding and empathy. It involves expressing your thoughts and feelings in a non-aggressive and non-confrontational manner. This can help prevent misunderstandings and conflicts in conversations. To practice nonviolent communication, focus on expressing your feelings and needs honestly and respectfully. Also, try to understand and empathize with the other person’s feelings and needs.
- Nonviolent communication also involves using “I” statements instead of “you” statements.
- Instead of saying “You’re wrong”, you can say “I see things differently”.
- This can help prevent the other person from feeling attacked or defensive.
13. Stay Approachable and Welcoming
Your demeanor can greatly influence how others perceive you. If you want to improve your conversation skills, it’s important to be approachable and welcoming. This involves maintaining a friendly and open body language, showing genuine interest in the other person, and being respectful and considerate.
Staying approachable and welcoming also involves being mindful of your facial expressions and tone of voice. A warm smile and a friendly tone can make a big difference in how others perceive you and make others feel comfortable talking to you, which can lead to more meaningful and enjoyable conversations.
14. Use Available “Free” Information
“Free” information refers to the information that’s readily available in a conversation. This could be something the other person said, something you observed, or something you both experienced. By using this “free” information, you can keep the conversation going and make it more engaging. For instance, if the other person mentions that they love cooking, you can ask them about their favorite recipes, their cooking techniques, or their cooking inspirations. Using “free” information also shows that you’re paying attention and that you value the other person’s contributions to the conversation.
15. Be Mindful of Your Tone
The tone of your voice can significantly impact how your message is received. A friendly and respectful tone can make the conversation more pleasant and productive. On the other hand, a harsh or condescending tone can create tension and conflict.
Be mindful of your tone when you speak. Try to keep your tone calm, respectful, and positive, even when discussing difficult or controversial topics.
Being mindful of your tone also involves adjusting your tone based on the situation and the person you’re talking to. For instance, a more formal tone might be appropriate in a business meeting, while a more casual tone might be suitable for a chat with friends.
16. Learn to Handle Silence
Silence can be uncomfortable for many people, especially in conversations. However, silence is not necessarily a bad thing. It can provide a moment of reflection, a chance to formulate thoughts, or a break from continuous talking. Instead of rushing to fill every silence, learn to be comfortable with it. Use it as an opportunity to reflect on the conversation or to give the other person a chance to speak.
If silence during a conversation is becoming too uncomfortable or awkward for you, you can use strategies like the Spokes Method to keep the conversation going. You can also ask an open-ended question, share an observation, or use “free” information.
Remember, the goal is to have a balanced and enjoyable conversation, not to fill every single moment with words.
17. Regularly Reflect on Conversations
Reflection is a powerful tool for learning and improvement. After each conversation, take some time to reflect on what went well and what could be improved.
Reflection can help you identify your strengths and weaknesses in conversation. It can also help you come up with strategies to improve your conversation skills.
Think about the topics you discussed, the questions you asked, and the responses you gave. Consider how you felt during the conversation and how the other person might have felt.
Remember, improvement is a continuous process and you don’t have to work on this alone. Consider attending social skills classes for adults if you’re regularly struggling with navigating conversations with others.
18. Be Patient
Patience is a virtue, especially when it comes to improving your conversation skills. It’s important to understand that becoming a better conversationalist won’t happen overnight. It takes time, practice, and patience.
Don’t be too hard on yourself if you make mistakes or if you’re not seeing immediate improvement. Remember, every conversation is a learning opportunity.
Being patient also applies to your conversations with others. Sometimes, people may take longer to express their thoughts or may struggle to find the right words. In such cases, being patient and giving them the time they need can make the conversation more comfortable and enjoyable for both of you.
19. Be Authentic
Authenticity is key in any conversation. People can usually tell if you’re being insincere or fake, which can create a barrier in communication. Express your thoughts and feelings honestly, and be true to yourself. This doesn’t mean you should say everything that comes to your mind without considering the other person’s feelings. It means expressing yourself in a respectful and genuine manner.
Being authentic also involves being open and vulnerable. It’s okay to share your fears, doubts, and mistakes. This can help build a deeper connection with the other person. It’s important to consider the context and the level of trust in the relationship. Sharing too much too soon can make the other person uncomfortable, and it may come across as a potential red flag.
20. Learn From Others
One of the best ways to improve your conversational abilities, and learn social skills in general, is through observing others. This could be people in your life who are great conversationalists, or it could be experts in the field of social intelligence. Pay attention to how they communicate, the questions they ask, and the way they handle different conversation scenarios. You can learn a lot from their techniques and strategies.
Learning from others also involves seeking feedback. Don’t hesitate to ask others for their feedback on your conversation skills. They can provide you with valuable insights and suggestions for improvement. Remember, the goal is to improve, and feedback is a crucial part of that process.
21. Stay Positive
Lastly, stay positive. Having a positive attitude can make your conversations more enjoyable and productive. It can help you build rapport with others and leave a positive impression. Try to maintain a positive attitude, even when discussing difficult or controversial topics. This doesn’t mean you should ignore negative aspects, emotional manipulation, or pretend everything is perfect. It means focusing on solutions rather than problems, and maintaining a hopeful and optimistic outlook.
Staying positive also involves treating others with kindness and respect. This can make them feel valued and appreciated, which can lead to more meaningful and enjoyable conversations. So, remember to stay positive, be kind, and spread positivity through your conversations.