Mastering the Art of Conversation

Some people don’t like to hear the world divided into a couple of categories in a statement of blatant oversimplification. For example: There are two kinds of people in the world: those who like ice cream and those who don’t. Or, there are ten kinds of people in the world: those who understand binary and those who don’t. (But then, that’s a different topic altogether.)

The point is, some people react negatively when they hear quick, simple, formulaic statements like those. That said, there are 3 kinds of people in the world: those who are shy and find it difficult to converse, those who are outgoing and tend to dominate conversations, and those who are natural-born conversationalists.

Admitedly, the latter is a very small group. The majority of us, in varying degrees, fall within the first two categories. I’m in the first category. I am shy and find it hard to converse. I can be somewhat tongue-tied, especially with someone I don’t know really well. The harder I try to think of something to say, the more I freeze up. Any of you who have spent time with me in the past and experienced uncomfortable silences, don’t take it personally.

All of us, whatever category we are in, need to cultivate  the art of conversation. How?

The best place to start is at home. There are many good reasons to make efforts to converse in a more healthy way in the home. First of all, it’s a comfortable setting. We are with people we’re familiar with, so it can be easier to apply these suggestions. And when you get better at conversing, you’ll have a happier climate in the home.

The Foremost Key

The foremost key to good conversation is caring deeply about one another. When we really care about the other person, we communicate. This doesn’t mean just talking, but listening when the other person speaks as well.

When we do talk, it’s important to have something worthwhile to say. Our everyday life provides many thoughts we can share with others. Perhaps you had an interesting experience at work, or a conversation with someone on public transportation. Maybe you read something informative or humourous. Share it with your family in conversation. Naturally, living and working in the world, we are sometimes going to have bad experiences. Share those too, but the point of this exercise is to have upbuilding, encouraging conversations.

Once we are more comfortable at engaging in conversations in the home, it will help us become better at conversing outside the family. Remember  the foremost key mentioned earlier - to care deeply about one another. This helps us in conversing with those outside our family. But a word of caution is due here: We need to be careful to not be overly interested in things that don’t concern us. We should be interested in people, without seeming as if we are prying into things that are none of our business.

Starting Out

Someone with whom you attempt to start a conversation may be wary of a stranger speaking to them, so put them at ease with a smile or a friendly greeting. Depending on the circumstances, it’s possible you have interrupted something and their mind is elsewhere. We often don’t react well to having our minds forcibly focused on something else. So be observant and considerate.

You may be able to start a conversation by saying something about yourself. But you need to be careful with this method, and have a clear objective in mind. We don’t want to just talk about ourselves, but draw the other person into the conversation.

The first few seconds may be crucial to the success of your attempt. Follow local customs. For instance, in some parts of the country or the world, people tend to be fairly casual with their conversation, opening with a number of pleasantries. In other areas, people want you to quickly get to the point. So keep these kinds of things in mind.

Perhaps you can offer a sincere compliment, mention a point of mutual interest, or ask a viewpoint question. If there are a lot of people in the area that speak a different language, maybe you could learn simple greetings in that language. This would help them to realize that you are interested in them, and it may create opportunities for further conversation.

If you apply these techniques, chances are you’ll find your world opening up a bit. You’ll find conversation to be enjoyable, and the people around you to be interesting. And when people are interested in each other, that can only improve our surroundings.

Go on, give it a try!

© 2007 Kelly Cheek