You may look at the title of this article and think it’s a little odd. We all talk to one another every day. Communication is human. Even someone who lives alone needs to speak to people regularly, be it at work, in social situations or even when shopping. It’s not something we can really opt out of or avoid. But some people are so much better at it than others. Why? Why can some people seemingly converse with anyone, whilst others cringe at the thought.
To have good communication skills is to have confidence. They really do walk hand in hand. And the more effective we become at communicating, the more confidence we will build. We simply need to remind ourselves what is important when it comes to effective communication with those around us….and overcome those fears that may be holding us back.
Firstly, if you are thinking that you would like to communicate better, or that you would like to have the confidence to talk to just about anyone, think for a minute about what is stopping you doing that. I’m pretty sure the answer will be fear. We all worry about what others will think of us, whether we will sound stupid or will make a fool of ourselves.
Let us first remember that the person we are talking to has their own stuff going on. If they don’t respond well, it may well be that the reason for this is more about how they are feeling that day. Even if they reject your opinion or argument, that’s what they are rejecting, not you personally. They will usually be looking for you to like and approve of them. It’s a 2 way street!
Try to adopt a positive mindset about any imminent conversation. Imagine it going well and take a big deep calming breath before you start.
Smile! When you are having a conversation, your body language can be just as important as the words you say. One of the most effective ways to communicate is to offer someone a smile. This is an especially great way to connect with someone you don’t know very well.
Ask questions. People love to be asked questions about themselves (as opposed to just hearing about you). Taking an interest in the other persons life is sure to be a good start in any conversation.
People also love interesting stories, just try and stay to stick to the point. Too much irrelevant detail and your listeners attention will begin to wander.
People will respond to you and you will hold their interest if you maintain eye contact. Looking around or past them will make your listener feel that you would rather be doing something else.
Nodding your head is very effective non-verbal body language, it shows you are interested and understand what is being said. Just don’t overdo it. Nodding continuously will negate the genuineness of the gesture.
Compliment your listener on their house, their clothes, their pet, their car, in fact anything you can think of! People love compliments. They are exceptionally easy to give and not only create a lasting favourable impression but also start the conversation with the other party feeling well disposed towards the speaker.
Find out, if possible, what is important to your listener. Usually they are dropping clues into the conversation so pick up on them if you feel confident enough. If you can find a subject the other person loves, (sport, travel and pets are usually right up there), you are on to a winner.
Use body language and facial expressions to show you are engaged. For example, keep an open pose with your arms by your sides. Folded arms give an impression of a barrier and is usually a defensive or even disinterested pose. Try not to create an arrogant or overtly aggressive impression by standing with your legs far apart.
Use the other persons name once or twice, but don’t overdo it. Using it in every sentence is worse than not using it at all!
Make yourself listen to the other person when they are speaking. When we feel strongly about something, and our mind is whirring with the next point we want to make, we can stop listening to what the other person is saying. Listening is just as important as talking. You can demonstrate this by offering neutral comments such as “That’s interesting.” Or use a method called echoing to demonstrate that you are listening. For example, “Wow, that is amazing that you travelled around India on your own.”
Be as positive as you can. Negative / uninterested responses are pointless and worse than no conversation at all.
Avoid being what could be construed as boring. For example, don’t give long, intricate summaries of your favorite reality show or your cat’s health. Give others a chance to participate in the conversation.
If the person you are talking to becomes loud and aggressive, this a sure sign they don’t feel they are being listened to. Keep your voice low and say something like “Well I can see this subject is something you feel strongly about,” (thus assuring them you are listening), and try and clarify why they are getting upset.
If someone criticises you, don’t shoot back immediately with a defensive response. Repeat back to them what they have just said, and ask for clarification.
If someone asks you something too personal, say “oh…that’s a bit sensitive just now…” And then immediately ask them a question about themselves. When there is no awkward gap, the conversation can continue to flow easily without drawing further attention to what you didn’t want to talk about.
Try and keep the conversation to the point in hand. Dragging unrelated matters in to further make your point, will lose you integrity.
Ask lots of questions. Particularly questions that you know the person will be happy to answer. Be careful here though, as sometimes it’s tempting to bring the conversation back to you. “How was your summer?” “Great, we went to Italy….” Ask them about their experiences in Italy before regaling them with yours.
If you are stuck for a response, take an audible breath and say “Hmmm … this is making me really think. ” This gives you more time to respond and will give the other person a compliment in that they have made an interesting point.
Another trick if you are struggling for a response is reflecting back what the other person has just said. Again, it makes the listener feel that they are being heard, whilst giving you a moment to collect your thoughts.
Scoring points by showing how intelligent/ well informed you are is not helpful. Don’t do it!
Drinking heavily and then attempting to converse with added dutch courage is also usually a very bad idea. You are not nearly as clever/funny/ interesting as you think you are when you are drunk!
I hope these points help when you are next having a conversation, be it with your best friend or a complete stranger. The same rules apply! And if nothing else, before you open your mouth, remember this:
“Every good conversation starts with good listening.”❤️