Being a Great Conversationalist

In the information-sharing society in which we live, finding people who will listen is a challenge. In a New Yorker cartoon, a man at a bar says to several people around him, “I’d like to buy everyone a drink. All I ask in return is that you listen patiently to my shallow and simplistic views on a broad range of social and political issues.”  He speaks for all of us in our desire to have someone listen.

Certainly the last thing most of us need in our busy lives is to spend a bigger chunk of time listening to people. But here are some suggestions on how you can maximize your time by giving your “ear” to people around you.

Get to your office l5 minutes earlier than usual and respond to emails and paperwork that does not involve interaction with people. Close the door so you are not disturbed. By concentrating on this first, you will get more done because you are not attempting to listen to others as you do this. When you finish, open the door or turn your chair to the open area of your environment and anyone who needs to see you will notice the visual ways you show you are available to listen.

A family version of this is to arrive in the kitchen early enough so that you are available as children and spouse get breakfast or prepare to leave for school or work. Sitting to have a cup of coffee (without your attention on your phone or computer) lets them know you are available to discuss family or personal matters.

Schedule listening time. You schedule lunch, getting your car serviced, and exercise time, so why not schedule listening time?  Don’t call it “listening time” to people around you, but identify it for yourself by allowing more flexibility between appointments. Let’s say an appointment with this person or that meeting usually takes 30 minutes. Make it 45 minutes on your calendar. You are building in listening time with this change. Knowing you have more time will encourage you to ask another question or to say, “What else do we need to talk about?” when you would usually rise to make your exiting obvious.

Finally, commit to talk less and listen more. We all know people we don’t enjoy being with because they dominate the conversation by talking all the time. Don’t develop this reputation. Limit the number of times you make contributions in a social or business setting. This may seem mechanical at first, but literally keep track of the number of times you talk in a meeting or at a meal. You may be surprised how often you speak and how little you listen. Keeping track a few times will encourage you to concentrate on listening. If you find yourself talking too much, make a real effort to stop and ask an open question of another person. This will immediately place you in the listening mode.

When you just listen, people will believe you are a great conversationalist—even when you don’t say a word!


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

1 Comment

  1. Tom Hailey says:

    Great advice which I will begin to do today!


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