How to have a good Conversation
Updated: Dec 19, 2019
Do you regularly engage in meaningful conversation?
It's amazing how we live in such a connected world, and yet, we have a difficult time engaging in something so basic and core to our needs and desires as conversation. Conversation is vital to human relationships. It's how we develop bonds, strengthen friendships, and express ourselves.
Unfortunately it tends to get lost in more shallow means of communication, like social media posts, texts, or distracted conversation. We don't spend enough time in conversation where we are fully attentive to the person we're talking to.
I'm as guilty as anyone on this. I am prone to distraction. I have issues having meaningful conversations that really benefit relationships.
I feel like we don't necessarily exercise all the tools we have for meaningful conversation. The biggest tool of all is you need to pay attention. Paying attention is the key to good conversations.
I recently had a funny experience where I met one of my life heroes in person and was not ready for it. I was so excited to finally meet this man, but I found myself majorly struggling on this most basic form of human interaction, which is conversation. I didn't know what to say! I was just standing there looking like an idiot, staring at him, trying to maintain some form of composure when inside, I was screaming like a fan girl.
It's amazing how difficult that was for me at the time. I have conversations with complete strangers all the time, and I don’t feel awkward at all. But in this case, I simply froze. And I know that this is a common problem. We're not necessarily meeting one of our celebrities every day, but we find ourselves in situations where we want to have a meaningful conversation, but we don't know how to do it.
I don't know all the keys to this, but I can share what I’ve figured out.
Having a conversation with someone you want to talk to, especially when you don't know much about someone, can be very difficult. The first step is to get a conversation going.
One of the best ways to do that is to start asking them questions about themselves and their interests.
Questions to ask
“What did you study in school?”
“What do you like to do for fun, when you have free time?”
“What is a topic that you can spend hours talking about or researching?”
“What is your line of work?”
“Do you have a creative outlet, like music, art, or writing?”
“How many siblings do you have?”/”Are you married?”/“Do you have children?”
"Do you have pets?"
“Where are you from?”
“Have you left the country?”
“Where did you go for your favorite vacation?”
“Have you learned anything surprising or interesting lately?"
"What was the best part of your day?"
People like to talk about themselves. I think all of us can agree that we feel like our lives are very interesting. I know my life is fascinating, and I'm happy to tell anyone and everyone about it. If you ask me about my hobbies, I will talk your ear off. If you ask me about my work, my education, my family, and basically anything about me, I will tell you everything there is to know.
Granted, I am more open than most people are, but generally, if you play around with a few topics and feel around for where their passions lie and what they're comfortable with revealing, you might find some very interesting material to work with.
Continuing a conversation
Now that you’ve started a conversation, you have to keep it going, which can also be a battle. When you're trying to continue a conversation, whatever topic you're on, if you find it becoming about you and they start glazing over, it might be the time to start bringing it back to them.
This is a great time to employ more of the questions above.
You don't have to make the whole conversation about them; definitely talk about yourself if they ask about you. But if things start winding down a little bit, turn it back to them. That's one of the best ways to keep the conversation alive: focus on the person you want to talk to.
I mean, you want to talk to that person, right? If your purpose is to hear yourself talk, you can do that with a mirror. Your primary purpose should be getting to know that person better, and knowing their thoughts: not trying to promote yourself or explain all of your thoughts, ideas, and experiences in the world. That can be a great thing to do, but the conversation should be about your conversation partner, not you.
Focus on them.
Ending a conversation
Sometimes it’s best to end a conversation on a good note before it deteriorates into awkward silence or distraction. Probably the best way is to say, “It was nice speaking to you!” and then continue in whatever you’d like to do next.
Whenever you begin a conversation, your partner should have your full attention. When you are ready to do something else or you aren’t interested in continuing the conversation, say something to indicate that the conversation is over before you look at your phone or go over to another person to talk. This closure can leave people with a better impression of you and reduces the awkwardness of not knowing what to say or distractedly standing near each other.
Conversation with people you are close to
This is something that I don't think we spend as much time as we should on. A lot of people know how to start, continue, and end a conversation, but they don't know how to have a conversation with their own spouse.
It's hard to deeply connect with someone in conversation, rather than just having a superficial conversation, where you talk about sports or TV. The most important type of conversation is with the people you care about. All the other conversations that you're having are supposed to lead up to these deeper relationships. So this is where you should spend most of your time and energy improving: having conversations with people you really care about.
Again, the first step is to pay attention to them. Pay attention and resist the urge to grab your phone. Just talk to them.
Setting an example
Now maybe you might have a difficult time getting them to pay attention to you. But as my husband has shown me, if you have the right habits and you are fully intent on them, they might start to pick up on those good habits over time.
My husband was very patient with me as we had a lot of conversations where he was focused and I was distracted. That was a little difficult for him. But over time, I started picking up his habits and I became less distracted and more focused. I'm still not perfect, but I'm getting better.
Keep focused and don't have an agenda, unless of course you have something you really need to talk about. Bringing up an important topic can be very difficult. I know I've struggled with this. Subjects like family, finance, children, or career choices can sometimes be a little difficult to bring up, especially when the current conversation is a TV show.
I would probably wait for the mood to be right. But also try to make the mood right. I know from personal experience that if you wait for the mood to get right, it's not going to. You can't just wait for an opportunity to magically fall into your lap to talk about something on your mind. Try to create the context.
Go on a walk or directly say, “Hey, I'd really like to talk about [this subject]. It's been on my mind a lot lately.” Or if your loved one is like most people, they will probably at some point ask how you’re doing. You can say, “Thanks for asking. I actually have something on my mind; is it okay to talk about it right now?”
If you both don’t feel like talking about that subject at that moment, it would be good to schedule the discussion, so you know it’ll happen and are prepared to discuss it without distraction.
I always felt weird bringing subject up directly, but at least for me and my husband, I know he's very appreciative when I'm very upfront with him. And I appreciate it when he's upfront with me, which he is very good at. It's so nice, because I don't have to worry about what's on his mind all the time, because he tells me.
Fortunately, you don't have to talk about deep things all the time. I have that tendency: I can get stuck in a serious mood and want to chat about serious topics for days on end until I figure them out. It's also okay to take breaks if the conversation gets stressful. Make a few intervals to have some fun. Talk about things that are of interest to you (and preferably to your conversation partner). That's very important.
The point is you want to make the conversation about that person with whom you want to develop a deeper connection. The purpose of your conversation is to develop a meaningful relationship with someone you care about and develop a deeper understanding of each other. When you think about this person, if there's something that they're interested in, just talk about it and listen really intensely; listen and focus on every word they're saying. It might even help to repeat their words in your mind as they talk.
If the subject is important to them, by the transitive property, since it's important to them, and they're important to you, that implies the subject should be important to you as well, or at least important enough to listen intently.
If you do that, they're going to feel more loved and valued. You can have a deeper relationship and they'll probably return the favor. They'll probably start listening more to what you want to say. And they'll probably focus more on you, pay more attention, and you can draw closer to each other.
I want you to focus on one of these aspects of conversation and I want you to start a conversation with anyone: you can take your pick. Make it as meaningful as possible. Give your full attention to the person you're talking to. I don't care if it's awkward, just do it. Make them feel cared about, make the conversation about them, and see how it goes.