Oh, the lamentation I hear regarding this topic! “People don’t know how to talk to each other anymore,” cry previous generations. “The internet has ruined us all!”
Well, I’m personally not one to catastrophize so intensely when it comes to this particular issue – however, I will say that the art of good conversation is not something we put much thought into anymore.
In another time, being a good conversationalist was considered the most vital of all the social graces.
I do not think that we have forgotten how to converse in this era, but I do believe that it’s a skill that ought to be given more attention than it is.
So, what does it mean to be a good conversationalist, and how do you become one?
What Is a Good Conversation? – The Science.
This definition varies from time to time and place to place, but there are a few principles which are dependable.
According to Clark University’s Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL), there are eight main features that define a strong conversation:
“I. Participants listen actively.
II. Participants reflect before speaking or acting.
III. Participants speak from the heart.
IV. Participants have ownership of the terms of the conversation.
V. The conversation promotes mutual recognition and acknowledgement.
VI. Participants gain recognition of themselves and one another.
VII. The conversation promotes in the participants an inquiring stance about themselves and one another.
VIII. The conversation promotes equal conversational power for all participants.”
Each of these relates to the concept of genuine communication – the free and open expression of thoughts, ideas, and feelings between participants.
In essence, your goal as a conversationalist is to foster that genuine communication.
The Maxims – Conversations Happen For a Reason.
Think about it – why does conversation exist? To communicate, obviously – but this is a broad purpose that covers everything from solving problems to forging social bonds through gossip and information exchange.
Communicating is, at the very least, a two-person task, and you must be committed to being the leader of this dance more often than not.
Therefore, the first step is to always know why you are having a conversation.
Are you sharing information that you know someone will appreciate? Communicate that first. “Oh, I was hoping to talk with you, ______, because I found this info about xyz topic, and I remember you saying x about it before.”
By introducing not only the topic, but also the reason you are bringing it up, you are communicating that the person you are speaking to is valued by you not just as a recipient of your voice, but also as someone you specifically wanted to share it with.
This is connected to a very basic principle of charisma: at the end of the day, people just want to feel important. Whoever helps them to do so will be appreciated and liked.
A good conversationalist creates the feeling of importance in others through the use of ‘you-focused’ statements and by asking relevant questions.
This is the core of why conversations happen, or at least it ought to be – you speak to people in order to share something with them, and to receive value in return.
The Maxims – The End Goal of A Conversation is Your Starting Point.
Following the previous maxim, that conversations are happening for a specific reason and that this reason is centered around another person or people, you should next be aware of where you want to “aim” the conversation.
A good conversationalist is able to control the flow of a conversation without the other person or people consciously realizing it. This takes the pressure off of your partner(s) while still allowing them to feel important – they are following the current you direct, but they are still holding the oars and sitting in the boat.
The end goal can be nuanced and have more than one layer. In a basic sense your purpose could be to share an idea, but a second layer is to get the other person to like this idea and feel excited about it.
You should, therefore, pepper your explanation with questions directed at them, or requests for their opinions and thoughts. This creates a sense of investment and, once again, makes them feel important, valued, and as though they are as much a part of your idea as you are.
The Maxims – People Enjoy Clarity.
On the back of that aim is the knowledge that people are drawn to clarity. When someone immediately grasps an idea or concept and can easily follow your line of thought, they feel intelligent.
It’s human nature to qualify everything we say with ‘extra’ words and information. This is a habit many of us are familiar with, and we know that it can be downright irritating when others take it to extremes. No one wants to be a motormouth (though I am, admittedly, the type to struggle with this)!
Fixing this habit is a matter of mindfulness and practice, often involving the enlisting of friends and family to give you a ‘heads up’ regarding where you struggle with clarity in your day-to-day speech patterns.
Conversations are about the journey as well as the destination, but it should be more of a brief scenic drive rather than an endless rambling walk.
Good Conversation – The Art.
There is something inherently graceful about a person with whom it is easy to converse. They have a magnetism about them that few other skills can bring about – you simply want to be around them.
The art of conversation is, actually, pretty simple: be a mirror, be a crown.
These two items symbolize the skills of positive amplification and elevation. Confused, yet? Let me explain.
Be a Mirror.
Imagine yourself looking into an antique silver mirror, contemplating your reflection. Gilt mirrors erase flaws and provide a soft, halo-like glow around you, taking the ordinary and creating an image which is ethereal and perfected. They show you in the best possible light.
This is what good conversation does as well. Even if you are engaging in a debate, reflecting the merits of your opponent will give you an advantage and will, in turn, present you as charming and worthy of mutual respect.
If someone speaks an opinion, for example, you must first acknowledge it positively before bringing your own into the picture. “That is an interesting angle, I never considered ______ that way. Personally, I think that….” or “You definitely bring up a very intelligent point – thank you for that perspective. My view is that…”
Yes, in this case you are disagreeing, but they have been made to feel like their words were gilded over. No matter how clumsily they delivered their own opinion or how unfounded it is in your mind, by gilding it for them you are placed in the position of power and leadership.
It’s even easier when you are agreeing on something, or having a conversation that doesn’t involve debate.
Be a Crown.
In any conversation, it is useful to be generous with your attitude. This doesn’t mean you should automatically agree with everything someone says, or that you ought to pretend someone is above you – it simply means you pause long enough to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, contemplate what they’ve said for half a moment, and then respond.
This is ‘crowning’ them by giving weight to their words, thoughts, and feelings. Think of each conversation as a meeting in which you both have something to gain.
Words are treasures, both yours and theirs, and so are well-placed silences. The greater the weight you lend to the words of others, the higher your value as a communicator.
The Main Takeaways – Being A Subtle Mover.
There are three cardinal sins one might commit while holding a conversation.
- Putting opinions into someone else’s mouth (misinterpreting)
- Overtaking the dialogue.
All of these relate to that one, all-important, oft-mentioned cliché so central to the art of conversing – you must learn to listen. Goodness, I’m sure we’re all tired of hearing that advice.
Learning to listen is not easy. It never has been, and that is precisely why good listening skills make such an impact when they are demonstrated.
There are plenty of wonderful blogs and articles detailing how to achieve this elusive talent, and so I will simply share an image with you that you may keep in mind when speaking to others.
When leading a conversation, the other person is the Sun, and you are the Moon.
You are both vital to the night sky (the conversation), but you play different roles. A good conversationalist is primarily reflective and acts as a subtle mover. The other person ought to feel enhanced and energized by speaking to you – and the flow of your topic, like the tides, should be something which you are able to quietly direct with grace and intelligence.
At the same time, you should be malleable, allowing yourself to shift and change shape depending on the needs of the conversation and the ways in which it naturally transforms from one topic to another.
Be adaptable, and let the other person shine.
Being able to direct and hold a good conversation will open up myriad doors for you. It is one of the keystones of an elegant person, demonstrating self-discipline and charm in any setting.
You will learn more, experience more, and be given more by mastering this art and learning the mindset behind it.
If you have additional tips and advice, please share! Until next time – and keep life classy, dears.