Almost all successful and happy people are good conversationalists. They have developed an ability to communicate naturally and spontaneously with almost anyone they meet.
Good conversationalists are a pleasure to be around and they are welcome wherever they go. Learning the art and skill of good conversation can help you in virtually every human relationship, both at business and at home.
In this post, I’m going to talk about some of the things that you can do to become a more effective conversationalist. As with anything worthwhile, these ideas require practice, over and over, until they become a normal and natural part of your personality. Once you begin putting these points into action, you will feel more confident and competent in your interactions with virtually anyone and everyone you meet.
There are three aims and purposes of conversation.
The first is the plain enjoyment and pleasure of self-expression and interaction with other people. One of the most enjoyable things we ever do is to spend time with people we like and whose company we find stimulating and fun. This potential pleasure is the driving force behind all of our social activities. We like to get together with people with whom we have a lot in common and just share ideas, letting the conversation go where it will.
The second aim or purpose of conversation is to get to know the other person better. In sales, and in all kinds of business, you require prolonged exposure to another person in order to get a feel for how he or she thinks, feels and reacts. This can’t be accomplished in a short meeting. Many customers will have a salesperson come back several times to converse and explain his product or service. These conversations may cover some of the same ground but their major purpose is to help the customer assess whether or not he or she wants to get involved with the salesperson and his company.
In our personal relationships, there is no substitute for extended periods of conversation in the social development of friendships and more intimate relationships. People who get along very well together have almost invariably spent a lot of time just talking about various subjects as they come up.
The third aim of conversation is to build trust and credibility between two people. This is perhaps the most important thing we do as we proceed through life and it is only possible with the kind of continuous conversation that reveals us to each other.
Sometime ago, I was asked to present a proposal for a strategic planning session for the senior executives of a billion dollar corporation. This presentation was to the president of the company and two of his senior executives. When the presentation was over, the president concluded the formal meeting and suggested that he and I go for a drive.
He called for his car to be brought around to the front of the company offices. We took the elevator down, got in the car and he had his driver take us to a large city park some miles away. When we arrived at the park, he suggested that we get out and walk for a while. We ended up walking for about an hour and a half, with the conversation going back and forth from business to personal life and touching on other subjects. There was no detailed discussion of my proposal, the cost of the strategic planning session, or the logistics. What he seemed to want more than anything else was to get an idea of my general philosophy and approach to life.
At the end of the hour and a half, as we got back into the car, he told me that he had decided to go ahead with the strategic planning session and that he would leave it to me from that moment onward. We then drove back to the company where we parted until the strategic planning session some weeks later. The conversation during the walk in the park had been the clincher.
One of the very best ways to learn about another person is to spend unbroken time in their company. I’ve found that a two or three hour car trip is one of the most revealing experiences you will ever have with another human being. People who have gotten along well for many years working or socializing together in brief stints will often find that an extended car trip brings out elements of their personalities that they did not even know existed.
Before you enter into any serious business or personal relationship with anyone, you should spend several hours with them experiencing the ebb and flow of sustained conversation. It’s amazing what you will learn.
Many people think that the art of good conversation is to speak in an interesting and arresting fashion, to be noted for your humor, your ability to tell stories, and your general knowledge of a variety of subjects. Many people feel that, if they want to be better at conversation, they must become more articulate, outgoing and expressive. They think that they must become better talkers.
Nothing could be further from the truth. As you’ve heard many times before, we come into this world with two ears and one mouth and we should use them in that same proportion. In conversation, this simply means that you should listen twice as much as you talk if you want to get a reputation for being an excellent conversationalist.
The art of good conversation centers very much on your ability to ask questions and to listen attentively to the answers. You can lace the conversation with your insights, ideas and opinions, but you perfect the art and skill of conversation by perfecting the art and skill of asking good, well worded questions that not only make the conversation go in the direction you want, but it gives other people an opportunity to express themselves.