How to Have A Productive Conversation

So you want to become a better conversationalist? What does that mean?

It all depends of course on your definition of conversation that can run the gamut from brief Facebook postings to an intense dialogue between lifelong friends. In this posting we are aiming for the best connection we can achieve in our relationships. And the acid test is that

no matter what the topic, one experiences an intellectually stimulating and emotionally satisfying dialog in the context of mutual trust and respect.

Let’s look at the contrast between the worst and the best in conversation styles.

The Substitutes

Many people mistake the sheer volume of talk with conversation. However the fool’s gold of conversation is seen in

  1. People who just want you for an audience. The rule “listen to me but I’m not really interested in you” is their idea of a conversation.
  2. Those who have mastered the art of superficial interaction which some mistake for genuine connection. Scratch below the surface of the “small talk” and get behind the façade of friendliness and you will find little substance to the person or conversation.
  3. One person showing off their knowledge and expecting the listener to be only an admiring and appreciative audience. This is not a conversation. It is a monologue by a narcissist. Worse still, there can be a basic disdain for others or a driving need to be superior (which basically comes from a deep sense of personal insecurity).
  4. Clever repartee where the parties compete to be “the smartest kid on the block”. This is peacockery and the height of egotism. This zero sum game results in winners and losers and, in the end, there is no real conversation.

Now contrast the above with

The Real Thing

Genuine conversation is characterized by

  1. A dialogue where both parties contribute equally and listen intently. No one person dominates the conversation. He/she patiently listens to the other without interrupting or restlessly wanting to inject their point of view.
  2. A person characterized by a generous spirit, open mind, and loving heart. These people are continually searching for the good in others and ways to validate the other person’s point of view.
  3. A flow of dialogue that includes both point and counterpoint. A good conversationalist is not just a “yes” person but can freely offer contrary opinions without retreating into hostility or hardened personal or political opinions. At the core they have a teachable spirit and are willing to change their point of view as new facts emerge in the conversation.
  4.  People who have widely embraced different cultures where they see themselves as perpetual students and can celebrate differences and recognize similarities.
  5. A climate of safety and mutual respect and acceptance. Trust is not something that one requests but earns with the expression of the content of one’s good character. 

Ten Steps to Becoming a Better Conversationalist

 Everyone can learn to become a better conversationalist. This is done through

  1. Setting realistic expectations. Don’t “beat a dead horse” by trying to get someone who is not capable of having such a conversation to deliver on one’s expectation of such an interaction.
  2. Being willing to move away from certain historic dissatisfying relationships, family and friends alike, and seek out new people in their lives.
  3. Becoming the change they want in others. Instead of trying to change others into great conversationalists they practice the art themselves. They listen with all their heart and they engage their whole mind.
  4. Not disqualifying people from conversation just because they start out with small talk. This may be their attempt to gauge trust or seek common ground.
  5. Cherishing the few satisfying relationships they have and being willing to overlook certain quirks of personality.
  6. “Upping their game” by stretching their knowledge base and venturing into new areas of life. They are also willing to be at the bottom of the learning curve in certain subject areas.
  7. Learning to ask good questions and showing a high level of interest in the world of the other person.
  8. A perpetual curiosity about the world around and a delight in discovering new things.
  9. Sharpening their empathy and listening skills
  10. Being willing to take the initiative and engaging people in conversation.

The result. You will rediscover the delights of great conversation.

What do you believe makes a great conversationalist?

Similar Postings

 So You Think You Can Listen?

 So You Think You Can Empathize?

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About cedricj

I am a licensed psychologist and management consultant and have always been intrigued by how leaders can inspire people in their organizations. The bottom line is that people are not always motivated by material rewards, the use of the carrot or the stick, fear and intimidation,and command and control, Five human needs inspire and drive us. Kristine S MacKain, Ph.D and myself describe these inspirational forces in our book "What Inspirational Leaders Do" (Kindle 2008)
This entry was posted in So You Think You Can Empathize? and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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