The Anatomy of a Good Conversation
Episode #4 of the course Mastering your conversations by John Robin
Welcome back to the course!
So far, we’ve covered some foundational concepts on what make a great conversation, but we haven’t delved much into the substance of conversation itself.
Get ready for this next lesson, where we are going to discuss the anatomy of a good conversation, and more generally, how to be well-prepared and well-equipped to hold your own in many a conversation setting.
The Brain of a Good Conversation: Making Yourself More Interesting
Conveying your ideas—what you think and believe—are all important intellectual aspects of a good conversation. But great conversations aren’t just intellectual. They’re also emotional.
Deep, meaningful conversations come ultimately from the intimacy you share with whomever you are conversing with. This can happen with your partner, a good friend, a colleague, and even with a stranger, depending on the topic.
The key is being able to open yourself up to the other person. A great way to do this is to share your passions or interests. Being able to talk about what interests you in a knowledgeable and engaging way makes you more interesting.
If you feel like there is nothing interesting about you or that you don’t know where to start, here are some ideas to get your thinking:
• World events you keep up on
• A few jokes you’ve learned
• Something you’re a self-proclaimed expert in, such as the best pizzas in the city
• Current movie releases
• Books you’ve read by your favorite author, or favorite genre
Those are just a few examples. Replace that list with the top five things you’d find most interesting to talk about, and that’s your list of what you can talk about to make yourself more interesting and get into deeper, more meaningful conversations.
Just be aware that, while it’s great to share your ideas and opinions, this can also lead to a problem with conversation balance, as we discussed the last lesson. Make it your goal to not go on too long. After all, the other person wants a conversation, not a university lecture.
The Heart of a Good Conversation: Telling Your Stories
While it’s great to have intelligent conversations, it’s even better to have ones that touch on emotions. Stories that touch your heart might touch other hearts too, and this really leads to some of the deepest conversations.
Even simply sharing how your day went can be a form of sharing your story, depending on how you choose to frame it.
If someone asks, “How was your day?” and you just go through the boring, mechanical motions of what you got up to, that’s not very interesting. If you instead answered, “I started writing my fantasy book again,” now that has potential.
Try your best to pare back details and focus on what you find the most interesting. What are you the most excited to share? I usually find these are the things that are the highlights of my day.
A good rule I like to use: if you think of three or more things to say, pick only the best one. Ignore all the others. If they’re important, they’ll come up later.
Just be sure to follow a few tips to keep this balanced:
• Only elaborate on stories if the other person seems genuinely interested
• If you’re sharing a longer story, make sure it has a beginning, middle, and end
• Pay attention to if your story is turning into a verbal dump—remember the conversation pillow, and remember that when you’re sharing your story, however interesting you may find it, you’re holding that pillow the whole time, so try to be fair with the balance
The Bones of a Good Conversation: Being Someone Others Want to Talk To
Another important aspect of conversation—the part that holds a good conversation up like bones—is how you become someone others want to talk to.
There are four simple words to remember:
If you can embody all these qualities in your conversation, you’ll generally be someone other people want to talk to.
Be positive, rather than negative. Try to find things you can relate to, rather than disagree with.
Show your interest in learning from the other person. This can be as simple as saying, “Wow, you taught me something!” Make them feel valued in what they’re sharing, that it is actually changing another person in a positive way.
Laugh, even if you have to remind yourself to do so. This requires that you actually are happy and positive when you’re talking to another person. It doesn’t mean you have to pretend to be happy on a bad day, but it’s still possible to have a sense of humor. My uncle, one of my greatest teachers, once showed me the power of this when he told me how he answered his doctor when asked how he coped with years of undiagnosed, yet crippling arthritis pain:
“A lot of ouches?”
A sense of humor and desire to create laughter will make you someone others want to talk to, because they also are absorbing the positive energy you’re putting out.
Lastly, appreciate. Make comments that let the other person know you appreciate them. Give people compliments. Show that you value them as a human being and a good person.
Do all this, and you will be someone others want to talk to.
The Gut of a Good Conversation: Being Prepared
Knowing how to conduct a good conversation also involves listening to your gut. Sometimes, conversations can be stressful—for example, a first date.
There are many ways you can prepare to better help you follow your instincts. Memorizing some conversation hooks can help. Rather than a generic list of one-liners though, I prefer this list of categories:
• Ask about family
• Ask about friends
• Ask about work
• Ask about hobbies
If you don’t know someone at all, there’s always news and weather to get a conversation started, but these can quickly run cold. The best way to find a quick hook to start a conversation is to make a compliment or comment about something the other person is doing or wearing. For example, if they have a nice jacket, simply say, “I like that jacket.”
I prefer coming up with a question. This gets the other person sharing, and right away, it makes you more interesting to talk to.
There’s nothing less interesting than someone who makes out-of-place comments to start a conversation. The worst one I ever heard was from a barista at a coffee shop: he was telling customers as he served them that Elon Musk was planning to cremate anyone who travels to Mars and leave the ashes on the planet. Almost everyone grabbed their coffee and left in a hurry.
Often when we feel stuck for something to say, we can get off on the wrong foot, so, when in doubt, talk about the weather!
Tip of the Day: Have You Seen Any Movies Lately?
One quick and easy tip is to ask if they’ve seen any great movies lately. Almost every human being on planet earth watches movies, so you’re almost guaranteed to kick-start a conversation with this question.
Movies, in fact, are a great way to touch on all the parts of a conversation mentioned today. You can share your opinions and thoughts on movies you enjoyed. You can share your emotions by talking about the movies you love, or relating on movies they love. You can like what they say, laugh together, show appreciation, and learn about movies you can add to your watch list.
That’s a wrap for today. Stay tuned for our next lesson, where we’ll turn next to styles of communication.
How to Talk to Anyone: 92 Little Tricks for Big Success in Relationships by Leil Lowndes
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