How To Be A Better Conversationalist (With Examples)

By Chris Kolmar - Dec. 11, 2020

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Conversation is a necessary skill to learn in order to develop strong relationships with others. Whether you consider yourself an introvert or extrovert, the ability to start and maintain a good conversation is essential for networking and forming strong bonds with your colleagues.

Being a conversationalist might come easy to some, but it’s not natural for everyone. Many people have difficulty beginning and holding a conversation with strangers, even if they are acquaintances or colleagues. It’s easy to overthink or feel anxious when trying to hold a conversation with someone in a professional setting. Sometimes, it can feel downright uncomfortable.

Being in these situations can cause you to be overly aware of your habits and tendencies. You might talk too fast, mumble, laugh awkwardly, or use a lot of filler words. You may have trouble holding attention or remembering what the other person said, leaving you unable to continue participating in the conversation in a meaningful way.

All of these things can be difficult to overcome and hold you back from being a better conversationalist. But you are not alone. Most people struggle with this on some level. But there are tips and tricks you can use to practice and, over time, become a better conversationalist.

Why Is Being a Good Conversationalist Important?

Being a good conversationalist is essential because communication is a critical skill in any working environment. Without it, our jobs would be both difficult and unenjoyable. Being a good conversationalist is important in a few different ways.

  1. Building relationships. Building solid relationships at work will make your life easier for a variety of reasons – having a colleague to brainstorm with, maintaining an open door with your boss, or simply finding a friend.

    Whatever the reason, having good conversationalist skills is key to building and maintaining any relationship. By being a good conversationalist, you’ll open up more opportunities to meet more people and improve your chances of achieving a lasting professional relationship.

  2. Establishing professionalism and credibility. Being able to conduct yourself with ease in a room full of people by being a good conversationalist will help you give off a professional vibe, no matter your position in the company. By communicating with ease, you’ll establish a certain level of credibility for yourself that might be unattainable otherwise.

    Being able to discuss certain subjects at length can help you develop even deeper and more meaningful relationships with those you work with. It’s also essential to be fluent in your industry’s terms when speaking with executives or managers, as it can show your diverse skillset and even open up opportunities you may not have heard about otherwise.

  3. Reputation. Being a good conversationalist doesn’t end with the actual conversation. Being able to navigate a conversation successfully will rub off well on people and make you memorable for things like future job opportunities or invitations to events.

    This can help specifically with those you spoke with or make them more likely to surface your name as a recommendation when others may be looking to fill a position or event seat.

  4. Job satisfaction. Although it might take some practice, being a good conversationalist shouldn’t become a chore. By communicating more effectively with your colleagues or acquaintances, you’ll find more satisfaction in your job and the relationships with those around you.

    You’ll find that conversations come more easily after the first few times, and you’ll find yourself even looking forward to coming into the office or attending a meeting with those you enjoy conversing with.

  5. Interviewing. Being a good conversationalist is an applicable skill for those who may interview frequently. Interviewing requires asking pointed questions, but it also requires the interviewer to hold a conversation with the interviewee.

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    Understanding and putting these practices to use will help you navigate an interview with ease and be able to pick out any good or bad traits more easily.

10 Tips to Become a Better Conversationalist

Even the best conversationalists have things to learn about improving their skills. However, everyone has to start somewhere. Below we discuss some ways to become a better conversationalist. There are no quick tricks or tips to improve this skill. The best way to get better is to put it into practice.

  1. Be genuinely interested. When we approach conversations, we tend to live in our heads, worrying about what we’ll say next, rather than focusing on the person we’re speaking with. It’s why we forget names or tune out of conversations entirely.

    Instead of worrying about how you’re coming across, focus on the person you’re speaking with. Be genuinely interested in who they are, what they do, where they’re from, and what they do at your company.

    If you fake interest, even if you think you hide it well, your conversation skills will come across as disingenuous, which will inevitably come across to the person you’re speaking with. Try being genuinely interested in the other person. If you simply can’t find a way to connect, move on to the next conversation.

  2. Keep topics light. Topic choice is important, and the way you frame things, equally so. Don’t dive into negative issues, such as grievances or frustrations at work. Instead, focus on positive things like your team or future projects you may be excited about.

    Don’t steer down complicated topic roads, like politics or religion, unless it pertains to your job. You’ll be able to tell what resonates with others and what doesn’t. Safe topics include goals or projects at work, family, entertainment such as movies or music, or issues specific to your industry.

  3. Don’t argue. A conversation might open up doors for both parties to share opinions. Of course, everyone will have different feelings and views depending on the topic, so remember that your conversation isn’t a place to debate or argue, it’s a place to chat or discuss amicably.

    It’s okay to discuss in a casual setting; it’s not okay to drive down a road when there is clearly no common ground. This leads to a tiring conversation and leaves the other participant feeling defensive. Allow for open-ended and open-minded discussion instead, especially if a common point can’t be reached. Ensure your body language isn’t defensive or off-putting.

  4. Be respectful. Keep the criticism or judgments to yourself. Be sure you walk into conversations preparing yourself to be respectful of other people’s points of view. Be aware of how you’re coming across and ensure you’re respectful of the other parties’ spaces and personal choices.

    For example, they may discuss a parenting method you may not agree with or an approach to a work project you might have had trouble with. It’s okay to provide an opinion respectfully, but be careful not to cast criticism or judgment.

  5. Put them in a good light. Look for ways to make the other person look good and, if possible, slide them opportunities on subjects they might be well suited to discuss. This will not only put them at ease but allow you a chance to just listen to what they have to say.

    If you can pull up specific talents or projects you might have been impressed with, try to insert them into the conversation when appropriate.

  6. Embrace differences. Everyone is different, and walking into any conversation, you’ll want to remain open-minded. However, just as there are differences, there will always be commonalities on some level. If you can find those, focus on mutually-familiar topics in conversation and build on them.

    By using one shared interest, chances are you will open up new opportunities to find common ground and more reason to continue discussions.

  7. Be true to who you are. Sometimes people tend to shift their truths when they enter conversations. However, this can come across as forced or fake to others. It’s better to embrace your truth and beliefs rather than cover them up.

    You shouldn’t have to agree with everything the other person says because, contrary to how it may seem, this leads to boring conversations. Come prepared to share your genuine thoughts and opinions with pride.

  8. Don’t let any one person dominate. Conversations should be a 50/50 split between both parties. However, this may vary depending on the people involved. Still, the concept remains the same.

    Both parties should have equal opportunities to contribute to the conversation. This means putting them in a good light if you feel you’re speaking too much. Ask them questions you know they can answer easily or might be interested in discussing.

    By taking the initiative to get the other person speaking, you’ll put them more at ease and instantly become more memorable and approachable.

  9. Ask purposeful questions. The types of questions you ask will steer your conversation, especially at the beginning. This means that choosing to ask surface-level questions will produce a pretty flat conversation that may leave the other party feeling like they’ve wasted their time.

    Instead, opt for more meaningful questions like, “What are your goals for next year?” or, “What inspires you?” that could lead to more meaningful conversation. An important tip to remember is that these questions should come after you’ve already built that initial rapport with the other party.

  10. Give and take. You don’t choose your colleagues, for the most part, so you might come across an individual who’s a little strange, inappropriate, or awkward during your conversation.

    Try not to judge them too hard for any off-handed comments they might make due to nerves or uncertainty. Try to give others the benefit of the doubt. We all know how awful it feels to say something weird during a conversation.

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Chris Kolmar

Author

Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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