Face-to-face conversations are becoming extinct. Thanks to the ever growing popularity of WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook, and other electronic media. However, e-conversation skills seldom help to pass a job interview, negotiate a business deal, or get to know a life partner better. Conversation skills are invaluable. They make a good impression, and reflect aptitude and confidence. What then does it take to be a good conversationalist?
How to begin
Begin by being relaxed. A relaxed person is a friendly person and this immediately puts others at ease. Smile pleasantly. Use a greeting that sets the tone for an amicable exchange. Say something like, ‘Hello! I’m Carolann Philips. I’m here on behalf of my company ABC Enterprises.’ Say your name slowly, putting emphasis on the difficult to pronounce sounds, if any. This helps the other person to remember your name, and will encourage them to similarly introduce themselves. Give exclusive attention to the person you are in conversation with. Find something to comment on and express interest, even if it’s as simple as their name.
How to listen
It is often said that a good conversationalist speaks less and listens more. Maintain eye contact, and show that you are listening, by providing feedback such as nodding. As you listen, reflect on the emotional content of what is being said. For example, if your companion says, ‘I hate driving, especially in this traffic’, don’t say, ‘Oh! I don’t mind driving. In fact, I love it!’ Instead say something like, ‘Driving stresses you out, does it?’
Also focus on the informational content. If she says, ‘I’m not used to driving in Muscat, I’m from Salalah’, it would be insensitive to respond with a comment such as, ‘Where do you work by the way?’ Instead, say something like, ‘Yes. Muscat has busy roads. You’re from Salalah? What’s it like there?’
How to speak
When speaking, the golden rule to remember is to never speak uninterrupted for longer than a couple of minutes at a time. An ideal conversation is much like playing a game of tennis, where there is equal opportunity for give and take, speaking and listening. It is an exchange of ideas and information. Never rush the speaker and try to complete a line. It can come across as impatience. Wait for an appropriate pause in the conversation if you wish to say something. If you don’t agree about something, acknowledge the other person’s point of view by saying something like, ‘That’s a thought’, or, ‘Although I don’t agree with you, it is a valid comment.’ Avoid using absolute phrases such as, ‘You are wrong’, ‘I never...’, or ‘nothing like that!’ Such comments may sound insulting, and could bring the conversation to an end. Keep in mind not to talk about yourself unless the other person shows a keen interest in knowing something particular about you. As you speak, ask open questions and encourage the other person to speak. This keeps the flames of the conversation burning. Being able to converse cordially is a skill that raises self esteem and makes us appear self-assured — key qualities for succeeding at most things in life!
(Carolann Philips is an award winning, certified management coach and organisational development coach based in Oman. She is also a talent developer, etiquette and protocol consultant. She specialises in behavioural skill development and professional performance enhancement.)