To be a good conversationalist, you must be quiet. We all have friends whom we admire and respect, but we don’t like to spend much time with them because they talk constantly. Even when they do stop and you get a chance to make a comment, that always leads to another example in his or her own personal life. We like people who listen to us and take the time to ask questions about something we have said.
A good conversation is like a game of tennis. You volley back and forth with words as the tennis players do with the tennis ball. After one player has been serving the ball and the game is over, the receiving player gets to hit the ball first and the next game is on. In like manner you want to take turns speaking so that each person gets the chance to receive information and also to share information. When one person dominates by talking too much, the person listening becomes frustrated and will often end the conversation.
President Calvin Coolidge was known as one who did not have much to say. There was a dinner at the White House when he was president. A woman sidled up him and said, “You must talk to me, Mr. President. I made a bet today that I could get more than two words out of you.” Coolidge whispered back, “You lose.”
Most of us would win that bet. A wise person once said, “The only reason we listen is we know that we get to talk next.” When we do talk, we often say too much. Here are some tips on being a good conversationalist.
Talk less than you listen. Make a mental note as you are conversing about the amount of time you are talking versus listening. Any more than fifty percent is too much. To help you accomplish this goal, be ready with an open question. A good one is “How do you feel…?” or “What do you think…?”
When the talker finishes, don’t give in to the human urge to “one up” the other person with your own story. We often respond to a person telling about a difficult client or a frustrating trip with, “Let me tell you what happened to me when…” Instead of telling your own story, follow up with a question seeking more information about what happened. That lets the other person know you were listening and you were interested in what he or she was saying.
My mother-in-law had a favorite saying: “Never tell all you know.” That is good advice for a conversation in general. Stop talking long before you have run out of anything to say. Most of us have had the experience of saying too much and later thinking, “I didn’t need to tell that much.”
Truman Capote said, “A conversation is a dialogue, not a monologue. That’s why there are so few good conversations: due to scarcity, two intelligent talkers seldom meet.”
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. He presents keynotes and seminars to corporations and associations whose people want to speak and listen effectively. See additional articles and resources at www.sboyd.com. To book Steve, call 800-727-6520 or email him through his website.