Tips for improving conversational skills.

3 Jan

In addition to appearance, I think that one other area where a lot of singles miss the boat in being attractive to others is in their personalities.

By “personality,” I don’t mean being the life of the party, or the person who gets all the parties started, or basically being the social hub of your network.  I just mean having a personality that people are attracted to – being a good conversationalist, being interesting, and having some social savvy about what to (and not to) say.  For women, this usually translates as some degree of charm.  For men, it’s more about having an attitude that puts others at ease – it CAN be charm, but it doesn’t have to be.  For both sexes, graciousness will take you a long way.  What you DON’T have to be is the Smartest Person or Most Knowledgeable Person.  Oftentimes, Smartest People are really irritating, because they have to be the Final Word on everything, or they price themselves out of social acceptance by operating at some level that’s beyond what everyone else is operating at.

But, you say, I HAVE a good personality!  My mom, my grandma, and all of my closest female friends assure me of this all the time!  I just have to meet a man who’s willing to look through my fat put aside media brainwashing and value me for my inner beauty!  And those men are hard to find!

OK, fair enough (anyone who’s read this blog for a length of time knows that its author hasn’t exactly been hitting home runs in the secure-a-date department) but – speaking anecdotally – there are a lot of singles out there who are pitiful conversationalists.  They’re timid, they have nothing interesting to talk about, they have no awareness of what’s going on in the world, they have no opinions about anything, they don’t know how to tease or joke, they don’t have a sense of humor, and, possibly worst of all, they depend on the other person to provide all of the conversation topics and/or depend on the other person to be the entertainment.  If you laugh a lot when you’re talking to someone, but that person never laughs, then you’re probably depending on that person to be the entertainment.  Conversation is a give-and-take.  Make sure you’re not just a taker.

If you want to become a better conversationalist, the best advice I can give you is to fake it ’til you make it.  Dig up some irrational confidence and act like you believe that other people should want to talk to you because DARN IT, you’re interesting and charming, and if people don’t want to talk to you, don’t take it personally.  It’s their loss, and besides, you’re not going to have chemistry with everyone you talk to.  Just move on and find someone else to try out your irrational confidence on.

Here are some other tips for improving your ability to converse in average social situations.

Read Something That’s Not a Novel.  Sure, it’s good to be able to talk about classic literature or opine on the latest pop-cult bestseller, but those won’t give you enough conversational breadth.  Read some news blogs, read some pop culture/entertainment blogs, read some blogs that incorporate history.  Just read things that make you more aware of the world, both now and in the past.

Listen to Stuff.  What’s on the radio?  Which acts are in heavy rotation?  Who’s got a talk radio show?  What annoying commercial is being played at every break?  Have you been to any talks or seminars lately?

Go On an Adventure.  You don’t have to be Bilbo Baggins, but when did you last go somewhere interesting?  What did you do?  What happened to you?  Did you meet anyone interesting or unusual?

Notice Things That Happen in Your Normal Life.  Humorous stuff happens all the time if you’re watching for it.  Look for the things that reveal people’s humanity.  How did you last stick your foot in your mouth?  When did you last wish the earth would swallow you up?  Who stood out to you when you were people-watching on a bench?

Learn How to Tell a Story.  People LOVE stories, so if you know how to tell one, people will gravitate toward you (or at least not act bored while you’re talking).  Always look for the shared human experience when you’re telling a story – that “oh, that totally happened to me once!/I know EXACTLY how you felt!” aspect.  (If you’re with the right crowd, bad public bathroom stories are almost always a hit.  This is because poop is a universal experience.)

Other conversational tips:

DON’T BE BITTER.  A dash of sarcasm is okay, but if you’re bitter, dour, or have a biting comeback to everything anyone says, you’re going to chase everyone away.

Look for the opening.  No one likes talking to someone who has to be in charge of the conversation at all times, but no one likes talking to someone who never contributes when given the chance, either.  Usually in conversation, the current talker will eventually make a statement designed to elicit a response, such as “Blah blah blah, blah blah blah, I couldn’t believe it!”  That last bit is the opening, and it is now your chance to affirm and then build on the statement with either your own experience (I know, that totally happened to me once!  I was…) or by throwing the ball back to the original speaker in the form of a question (Hahaha, what happened next?).

Give Time to Everyone in a Group/Be Interested in Everyone.  If you’re in a group, try to include everyone.  Sometimes you’ll be in a situation where everyone is content to listen to the main talker talk, but other times, people get really irritated if it looks like two people start having a private conversation in a group of five.  It’s better to give people the option of being listeners than to just force it on them because you and Cute Guy are turning it into the You + Cute Guy Show.  (If you find the latter scenario happening, come up with a reason for the two of you to exit so you can continue to talk by yourselves.  Don’t wait for everyone else to get bored with you and leave.)

Don’t Get Emotional.  Be the duck – let everything roll off your back.  If someone says something that irritates or upsets you, play it cool.  Don’t be vindictive or passive-aggressive.  Don’t openly challenge someone.  And don’t be a clinger, either.

Don’t Linger in Bad Conversations.  Bad conversations suck the life out of everybody.  Learn to bow out gracefully.

Use Observations About the Other Person to Open Conversations.  This is my preferred method of opening a conversation – remarking about some aspect of the other person.  “I like your sweater.  Where did you get it?”  “Nice shoes.”  “In a hurry?”  When I flew home for Christmas, I struck up a conversation with my neighbor because I noticed he was wearing a blazer.  I asked if he was going somewhere because of the blazer, he said he was wearing the blazer because they’re hard to pack, and the conversation was off and running.

Applying the above to the Christian singles community – if the only thing you have to talk about is church and your involvement in it, you need to expand your horizons.  Yes, it’s wonderfully spiritual to talk about how much you love the praise band and how you feel the Spirit flow through you when you’ve all got your hands raised in the air or whatever…but you also poop sometimes, you know?  Fun conversationalists can transition from heavenly to mundane and back without breaking a sweat.  Don’t forget that part of life includes stubbing your toe.

The above is by no means an exhaustive list, just things that sprang to mind first.  If you have anything to add, put it in the comments.

P.S.  Happy 2013, everyone!

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9 Responses to “Tips for improving conversational skills.”

  1. 3rd Millenium Men January 3, 2013 at 10:35 pm #

    Nice list! You asked us to add our own thing in the comments- I did my own post on conversation skills a few weeks ago. Think they compliment each other nicely:

    http://3rdmilleniummen.wordpress.com/2012/11/28/when-speaking-with-a-girl-do-not-interview-her/

  2. y81 January 4, 2013 at 8:46 am #

    Happy New Year, Haley! And if it’s not to be the year that Our Lord returns, may it at least be the year that you find a man.

    One observation: If you’re a girl, it’s fine to laugh at everything a male interlocutor says (I mean, laugh with him, not at him, of course), and there’s no particular obligation to be funny yourself.

  3. DJ January 4, 2013 at 9:02 am #

    The best way to be interesting is to listen to other people and take an Intrest in them and their intrests. Ask questions about them and speak only minimally about yourself people will then start telling you that your a wonderful conversationalist you are,and will enjoy your pressence more,also a great way to make people friendly towards you.

  4. Hana January 4, 2013 at 9:44 pm #

    I’d like to think that being a good conversationalist makes people more interesting and attractive to the opposite sex, but real-world experience makes me think otherwise. Even social dominance in men isn’t always demonstrated by knowledge about what goes on in the world (alas). I was with someone a few months ago who honestly thought that apartheid was “bringing blacks and whites together.” He has a pretty girlfriend nevertheless. Also, the last guy who asked me on a date asked me out within 10 minutes of meeting me. I’m not the best at keeping the conversational ball rolling, myself, but he was so talkative that I’m pretty sure he didn’t notice at all…

  5. y81 January 5, 2013 at 1:55 pm #

    “he was so talkative that I’m pretty sure he didn’t notice at all”

    Actually, if you let him talk for ten minutes and looked interested (or laughed), he probably noticed that, if only subconsciously, and thought you were a brilliant conversationalist.

  6. Hana January 5, 2013 at 8:19 pm #

    Yeah, I guess that was my point. It’s often more important for men to be interesting conversationalists than women. On the other hand, if a guy is outgoing, funny and athletic, he doesn’t have to know anything about news or history to attract women, either.

    Being able to carry on good conversations together is definitely important for lasting relationships, though.

  7. Natalie January 5, 2013 at 11:27 pm #

    With guys, I think that if you can tap into a passion/hobby/major interest you’re golden. For example:

    Girl: What did you do on your last vacation?
    Guy: Spent a week backpacking the Colorado Rockies.
    Girl: Cool! Was that your first time?
    Guy: Yeah, I”m more into photography, but some friends convinced me/Oh no, I’ve been doing it for years.

    If you find something like that it’s probably not too hard to keep the ball rolling :) That’s why I like geeky/smart guys – they don’t do smalltalk very well, and it’s easier to find out what they actually want to talk about! Ask me about my first “date” with my husband :P

  8. proclusishere January 6, 2013 at 3:51 pm #

    Beginner’s tip: Look a man/woman in the eye when you try to connect through conversation. Eye contact is powerful.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Lightning Round – 2013/01/09 « Free Northerner - January 8, 2013

    [...] conversation tips. Related: Non-verbal [...]

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