Conversation Time!

Erin Moriarty of 48 Hours said, “With cell phones, iPhones, Blackberries and computers, Americans today have no trouble making connections…it’s making conversation that seems to be a problem.” Good conversation is a diminishing social skill. Because it is the holiday season when people get together at parties or family gatherings, a look at the keys to good conversation is important.

A key to good conversation is listening. People tend to talk at each other instead of taking turns talking and listening. You will make the talker like you and respect you not by what you say so much as how well they think you are listening. People love to talk and when someone has a story to tell, you can’t wait to tell your own story. Sometimes the only reason you listen is because you know you get to talk next.

Spend more time listening than you do talking. Add a competitive element to your listening. Summarize in your own mind what the other person’s point is. If it is a familiar topic, listen closely to learn something new. Think of a question you might ask even if you don’t get to ask it. These simple mental exercises will keep you listening instead of interrupting the talker or thinking of what you want to say when he or she stops talking. Voltaire said, “When you listen, you have power; when you talk you give it away.”

To improve your conversation skills, learn to ask questions. A good question will keep you engaged with the topic. As someone said, “The person who talks a lot dominates a conversation, but the person who asks questions controls the conversation.”  Don’t ask too many questions; you will seem like an interrogator. Ask more open questions than closed questions. Good open questions might start with “What do you think,…” or “How do you feel about…” or “What is your opinion…”

Finally when you do talk, keep your comments short and concise. A little boy asked his mother a question. The mother said, “Why don’t you ask your dad?”  His response was, “I don’t want to know that much about it.”  Some people can’t give a “yes” or “no” answer to a closed question. They feel like they have to elaborate or give an example.

As Moriarty concludes her discussion of conversation, she writes: “Talk may be cheap, but good conversation is priceless.”

Steve Boyd
Steve Boyd
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. Steve won the Toastmasters International Speech Contest in 1970 and was chosen Outstanding Professor of the Year at NKU in 1984, among other awards and honors. Since retiring, he volunteers with nonprofits, spends time with family, travels, preaches occasionally, and enjoys reading and writing. Contact Steve at (859) 866-5693 or at

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