Tuesday, November 15, 2011

How To Hold a Conversation

Have you ever had those times when you're in the middle, maybe even the beginning, of a conversation with someone (a stranger, an acquaintance, a person you haven't seen in years), and you know that the conversation is going to end poorly rather soon? You try to think of something, anything that would help save the conversation from the flames.

Whomp. You couldn't do it, and the conversation awkwardly ends with a weirdly premature "See you around.", "Well, it was nice talking to you.", or "Okay. Goodbye."

Better yet, before you say one of those phrases above, you pretend to have a phone call, or you make up a story about how you have to be somewhere.

Well, HAVE NO FEAR! You can now stop lying to people about your engagements or meetings that don't exist. You can have a full and decent conversation before you excuse yourself. The search for questions or phrases to liven a dying conversation is over!

You simply have to let me, the Master Communicator, be your guide to a vibrant conversation. Follow me.

No one wants to talk with someone who lacks confidence. I've talked to those kind of people. It's not fun. At all. It's awkward for both people engaged in the conversation. Insecurity in yourself has the potential to bring about insecurity in the person you're conversing with. Save yourself and the other person the trouble. Be confident! There's a 99% chance that you're awesome, so act like it!

Don't be overconfident or cocky though. That's a huge turn-off. You mustn't brag on yourself or anything. That's just too much. You don't understand how much I loathe talking with egocentric, egotistical, arrogant, self-absorbed people. Yes, that's pretty redundant. Simply avoid being one of those people.

There's a difference between being conceited and being confident. I beg you to choose the latter. Get it? Okay. Moving on...

It's good to ask questions. It's the equivalent of giving someone an essay prompt...kind of.

You should try to do more than simply asking the same question that was just asked of you. Don't know what I mean? Here are two examples:
"What's your major?"
"Vocal pedagogy. You?"

"Where are you from?"
"San Diego. You?"

Sure, these questions are fine in the beginning, but if all you're saying is "You?", that's boring and shows a lack of creativity. I'm not going to give you a list of questions to ask, because that is still stifling your creativity. But, you could ask about personal interests, sports, family, school, or work even. Make your own list of questions. Memorize it. Use it when you need to.

IMPORTANT: Avoid asking questions that are too personal. That's rude. Questions like "How many sex partners have you had?" or "How much do you weigh?" are definitely NOT topics meant to be discussed with strangers or acquaintances. Got it? Good.

Monitoring how you're effecting the person you're conversing with is very important. Observe the body language! Arms folded across the chest translates as "I'm not relaxed." Standing to the side, having the body turned slightly away from you translates as "I'm trying to escape." Scanning the surrounding area also means "I'm trying to escape."
Ways to keep the comfortable atmosphere: Don't stand/sit too close, and don't touch. Also, like I stated in Element Two, choose appropriate conversation topics. If you have a weird laugh, and you laugh a lot at things that aren't funny, handle that. Create an artificial laugh if it's that serious, and don't laugh too much. That could be weird.
Apologize if you already made the atmosphere uncomfortable, and try to give yourself a second chance if it's not too late.

Element Four: LISTEN
If you do otherwise, that's beyond rude. Something cool or interesting could be said or a question may be asked of you, and you may miss it simply because you're not listening. You happen to be in the conversation with a person. The least you can do is be respectful by listening. Make eye contact, too. That ensures that you're listening.

Are you with me so far?

Many people are uncomfortable with silence in a conversation. Unfortunately, that leads to someone stammering, trying to fill the silence with something interesting. But it's okay to have silence sometimes. Perhaps you or person with whom you're conversing is thinking of a response to your question. Perhaps it's time to end the conversation. Don't panic. If you're thinking, it's okay to slip the occasional "umm" in there, but if you're trying to fill the silence with "Ummm. Sooo. Yeah." That's not gonna work.

Random! Sometimes when I'm fumbling for something to say, I say "So, how's the weather?" Sure, that's such cliché ice-breaker, but then I talk about why it's such a cliché ice-breaker. Sooner or later, we're back on a good conversational path. That's just me.

All right. NEXT!

Element Six: DON'T OVERDO IT
Chances are, no acquaintance or stranger wants to know about how your cat threw up all over your ramen noodle soup. Chances are, no acquaintance or stranger wants to know how you got your biggest scab ever by skating down some stairs. Chances are, no acquaintance or stranger wants a long, drawn out story about you and your Aunt Myrtle's falling out over some Victoria's Secret underwear.

So, spare us. Please.

Even if you think your story goes with the topic you're discussing, there is no reason for you to have lengthy monologue for it. When it comes to stories, it's best to be concise. Even if someone asks you to tell the story, keep it short. There's no need to speak a biography or pour your life out to someone who may not even care for it.

This is a very important tip. When it's time to go, it's time to go. Again, read the body language. If the body has been turned away from you or the eyes are looking away, and if he/she isn't uncomfortable (like in Element Three), it's probably time to end to conversation. Some people straight up say, "I have to get going." or "It was nice talking to you." That means "The End".
So, flash a charming smile (if you have one), say "Thank you for your time, and it was great talking to you.", and walk away. Easy as that!
Even if you had a nice, long conversation, you still have to exit eventually. Do the same thing! It's not awkward if you do it right. Exit with some grace.
If you're the one who needs to end the conversation, be polite. A pleasant "It was nice talking to you." will do just fine. It's not premature. It's not awkward. Now, you can walk away with some pride as you just finished a good conversation with your awesome Nia-taught skills. =)

It's a lot easier to participate in group conversations rather than just a one-on-one. The more people in the group, the less pressure on each individual. Awkward silence usually doesn't happen in these types of conversations. The only tip I have for group conversations is stay involved. Don't be the weird person texting (or pretending to text) all the time. Be sure to say something at least every once and a while. You don't necessarily have to be "quick on your feet" in group conversations, so have fun. Take some time, and develop your thoughts, if need be. If you still need help in a group conversation, use the above elements. If you're still struggling, well...that may be a slight problem.

These tips are like the icing on the cake, the ketchup on the fries, the "+" beside the "A".
Pay attention.

1. Try to be learned. Yes, learned. Pronunciation? /ˈlərnid/. When I say this, I mean that I don't want you to sound asinine. That's embarrassing. One of the best way to avoid asininity in conversation? Don't use words that aren't words. Irregardless? Definitely not. That sounds ignorant. The word you want is regardless. Conversate is not a word. It's CONVERSE! No, not the shoe brand. It's pronounced differently anyways. I'm not trying to offend anyone. I'm simply trying to educate. So yeah, have a good vocabulary; and remember, correct grammar is sexy!

2. This kind of goes with the tip above, because it's another way to avoid asininity. Don't try to discuss topics that you really have no knowledge about. One of the worst things to do in a conversation is deliver a twisted up a story or supposed "fact", thinking it's true. You'll be even more abashed if the subject you're ignorantly discussing happens to be the other person's specialty.
The word sophomore has two Greek roots: soph, which means wise, and mor (as in moron), which means foolish. Therefore, a stupid person who acts like a know-it-all is said to be sophomoric. Avoid looking like a sophomore. Talk about what you know. There's some insight for you.

3. Do the listener noises. You know what I mean. The mhms, yeahs, ooos, and aahs. It helps move the conversation along, and gives the other person assurance that you're listening to him or her and that you're interested in whatever's being said...even if you're really not.

4. Avoid name-dropping. "So, when I went there, I saw Bill, and he was with Karen. Afterwards, David came out of the blue and spent twenty minutes talking about Helga's ear infection." No. If the person you're conversing with doesn't know who you're talking about, don't talk as if he/she does.

5. The use of jargon is generally meant for the workplace. Why would you converse with a chef by using special words or expressions meant for quantum physicists? Think it through.

6. Common interests are a definite plus and a good source to feed off of. "No way! You play the violin too?!" In this scenario, talk to the person with whom you're conversing about the violin training you've received, your favorite composers, or anything that's good like that. Is this self-explanatory enough? I hope so, because I'm not going further into it.

7. Please remember that a conversation should be an equal effort. Some people don't talk much, and that could be an exception. But notice how I've repeatedly said talk with rather than talk to. It isn't a lecture or a speech. It's a conversation. DON'T HOG THE CONVERSATION. Sharing is caring, so give the other person time to talk and stuff. (This is more of a broad reiteration than a bonus tip.)

I hope you all enjoyed this! Seriously, take this stuff to heart! Keep practicing, and you'll be a pro if you're not already. I get to flex my conversing muscles everyday, but they really got a workout this past weekend when I hung out with a man I barely know; but that's another story... =)

Have a good day!

Pictures' citations: forbesrobbinsblair.com, dreamstime.com, phil-inmotion.blogspot.com

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