There are a lot of people who don’t know how to talk to other people. It’s true. Sometimes it’s due to anxiety. Maybe it’s about shyness. It could be that they were bullied in school. Sometimes it is the fear that they will be boring. Or maybe they just didn’t learn how. There are all kinds of reasons why people have a hard time speaking to others.
If this is you, take heart. Like most things, all it requires is a little skill. With practice you will soon realize that it’s something anyone can learn to do. Here are some verbal and nonverbal tips to make it easier.
An invitation is an offer for the other person to speak. It is generally a question like, “How are you?” or “Is this seat taken?” The point is to let someone know that it’s her turn to speak. Sometimes it’s not always clear. When this is the case, the conversation can die. So be sure to use invitations so that the conversation keeps going.
Inspiration is a prompt to get your partner taking about something that they want to talk about. Finding the right topics makes things flow easily. If you ask, “What did you think of Game of Throne’s last night?” and that is your partner’s favorite show, the conversation can become lively and easy for several minutes. If you partner doesn’t watch Game of Thrones, it will be a dead end.
To see how this works in action, imagine that you are playing volleyball.
You serve with, “Hey, how is it going?” (The ball goes to your partner).
Your partner responds with, “It’s pretty good. I had a great weekend. How about you?” (The ball comes back to you).
You say, “I had to work.” (The ball goes into the net and the conversation dies).
The trick is to keep the ball in play by either ending with an invitation or an inspiration. A way to fix that would be to say, “Oh, I had to work Saturday, but got to spend some time out in this great weather. Did you do anything fun?”
Keep in mind that good conversation is stimulating to both parties. You’re not just talking to talk. You’re talking to share something and create a connection. It’s not just about seeing how long you can speak or keep someone speaking to you. It’s okay to stop talking when you’re done.
Now there is more to conversation than just words. In fact, most of what we communicate is non-verbal. Here are some non-verbal things to look for that will help improve your communication success.
Open, Relaxed Arms
Crossed arms can be a sign of hostility… unless the person is cold. If you want a favor or want to create connection, wait for a time when the person is relaxed. No crossed arms. If someone crosses her arms in the middle of a conversation, that’s a sign to back off.
Good Eye Contact
“Good” eye contact means that both parties are looking into the eyes for a few seconds before looking away. If the eye contact is sustained for too long, it can feel intimidating or creepy. If the eyes are too low or are wandering away from the person, this can feel like you’re not connected.
Body Facing Each Other
If your body is facing the person you are talking to, this creates connection. If one of you is facing away, this can show disinterest. Make sure that you’re facing the person you’re talking to.
Use a Moderate Tone of Voice
You want the other person to be able to hear you, but you don’t want them to feel like you are screaming at them. So choose a moderate tone of voice. This will make both parties most comfortable.
Be a Good Listener
Sometimes the people who know how to listen are the ones others find as the best conversationalists! It’s true. All of us aren’t born with the gift of gab, but we can all be good listeners. If you tend to get overly enthusiastic in conversations, just remember to not interrupt. Let people tell their jokes or stories without rushing them to the punch line. Even if you’ve heard it before. Just let them tell you again.
There are other non-verbal cues that can help, but these will get you off to a solid start without overwhelming you. Here are a few more tips that can help.
Stay Focused and Present
You will have a better chance at maintaining an interesting back and forth conversation if you are present. Some people want to think ahead and plan what they are going to say next. They think it might make them seem more clever. Perhaps, but you will be more engaged if you stay here now. People appreciate conversations that flow organically.
Maintain Personal Space
Everyone has an invisible barrier around them that separates them from other people. The closer the relationship, the smaller the boundary. Maintain that space boundary. People don’t like it if you are too close. Whatever you do, don’t touch someone unless you are absolutely sure that it’s okay. This is a really quick way to turn people off.
Keep It Superficial At First
When you are talking with fellow professionals, people you don’t know well, or even strangers, keep it superficial. As your relationship grows, you can talk about more personal things. Everyone is due privacy and respect. Don’t ask about their personal life and don’t share yours. Things like pets, work, current events, things in common, weather, sports, and holidays tend to be safe.
Know When to Stop or Change the Subject
As you are talking, pay attention to body language. If the other person changes from a “connected” posture to “disconnected” one, for example, he turns away from you or steps back and makes more distance, pay attention. Something just happened that either says, “I’ve lost interest” or maybe “I don’t want to talk about that.” You can either try to re-engage by changing the subject or giving the conversation a pause.
This can also happen with words. If you’re going along smoothly and then someone says something that creates emotional distance, you have probably said something that didn’t land well. You can ask about it, change the subject, or go back to something safe.
Conversation is a skill. The more mindful practice you give it, the more easily it will flow. Notice that I said mindful practice. It’s not enough to just try and talk to someone. You have to go into it with the idea that you’re practicing skills. So maybe the first time you focus on your body language and see if that makes things flow better. Once you get the hang of that, you might work on sustaining conversation. Just remember that as your skill grows, your confidence will grow too. This doesn’t have to be scary forever.