Good conversation is what makes us interesting, attracts others to us, and builds meaningful relationships. Do you have difficulty building new social connections? Do you become anxious when faced with initiating conversations? Do you have difficulty keeping a channel of communication going, interesting, and meaningful?
Most people can converse successfully where they feel confident and safe with family members and very close friends. The problem arises when we are placed in situations where we feel anxious, tense, and self-conscious.
Good communication skills give you the ability to connect with more people, which will expand your horizon and opportunities. Good conversational skills will allow you to become successful at building new friendships, developing deeper relationships, as well as a sense of personal fulfillment.
I recently read an informative book by Don Gabor How To Start A Conversation And Make Friends. The steps Don Gerber teaches to help you improve your conversational skills are very practical and effective. The following are ten steps to develop small talk skills you can start to practice today:
1) Body language communicates our feelings and attitude before and during conversation. The following “softening” gestures will make people more receptive and responsive to you: a) smile often b) open your arms away from your body c) lean forward d) offer a soft touch e) make direct eye contact f) nod your head to show your interest.
2) Be the first to approach another person with a warm greeting. You will get a more positive response if you are the first to say hello and initiate the conversation. By approaching another person, you are showing you care about them.
3) The easiest way to start a conversation is to offer a compliment or comment about something, followed by an easy to answer question. Comment on something they are wearing, carrying, or about the surroundings. Follow-up your comment by asking open- ended questions to encourage more than a one word answer. For example, “I love the sweater you are wearing. At what types of stores do you enjoy shopping?”
4) Be an active, focused listener. Listen for free information that accompanies the answer to your questions. By focusing on the free information, you can explore their experiences and interests. Listen for facts, feelings, and opinions. Listen for key words about people, places, things, and activities. Utilize the free information to move the conversation forward.
5) Ask follow-up questions to improve your understanding. To clarify information, ask for examples. By being an active listener and asking follow-up questions, you encourage people to keep talking; when you make an effort to understand someone you show them you are interested in them.
6) Be sure to disclose free information about yourself to help others to get to know you. Be enthusiastic when you reveal experiences about yourself. Typically self-disclosure will escalate in steps as the relationship develops. The steps will begin with background experiences, followed by revealing personal opinions, then personal feelings, and ultimately fears, hopes, dreams, goals, struggles and sorrows.
7) To keep the conversation going, continue to seek information. One of the keys to small talk is to discover the possibility for common interests, discovering the big things in a person’s life that are important to them, as well as searching for topics that generate enthusiastic responses. Think about open ended questions to ask ahead of time to uncover a person’s hot buttons. Examples of questions to ask are as follows:
- What types of things do you do to relax?
- What things do you like to do over and over again?
- What are your major interests?
- What excites you?
- What do you like to do to have fun?
- What is really important to you?
- Is there anything new or exciting happening in your life?
As you uncover the big things in a person’s life, listen for free information on which to build future conversation.
8) When you discover a topic that excites people, encourage them to tell you about it. But remember it is also important for you to share information about your interests. When you talk about your hot buttons, be sure to be specific and share details to give them a look inside you: show them what excites you. It is important to let the other person know what interests you have in common.
9) When you explore another’s opinion, tell the person why you want to know. Explore the purpose behind their viewpoint. By simply exploring the reasoning behind their opinion you are saying you value their thoughts and complimenting them.
10) Be aware that the information exchange is balanced between talking and listening. Keep track of that balance. It is imperative to ask questions, encourage the other person to talk, and listen intently.
To be successful at improving your conversational skills, you will need to change your attitude, be willing to face your fears, and learn new skills. Realize it will take time to make changes, so be patient and focus on practicing these small talk skills in small steps.