|Do you know people who spend more time talking about what they want to say than caring about what you may want to hear? These types always talk about themselves and what’s happening in their lives, without seeming to care about how your day is going or what’s new in your world.
It’s not hard to be more considerate than that. To brush up on conversation etiquette, here are eight tips to think about and ask yourself each time you are on the telephone or in the company of another person, whether at a business meeting, event, a social party, talking to a friend or neighbor, or at home with family:
1. Begin conversations with a cordial question. Be the first to ask a pleasant question, including “How’s your day going?” “What’s new in your world?” or a question that gets the other person to answer with more than a yes or no. If the other person happens to ask a question first, answer it, but then ask a question in return.
2. Converse in equal time slots. Conversations are not meant to be one sided, where one person talks while the other person listens. There is a delicate balance between how much talking one person should do over the other. It should be relatively equal. If you are not hearing a balance in your conversations, something’s wrong!
3. Listen. It is said, “God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason.” Care more about listening to the other person than about what you want to say next. Here are two examples of sticky situations: The person you’re talking with moves to a new subject, and you want to stick to the old one. Or he or she asks a question and you want to continue the conversation that came before it.
In the first example, preface the comment with something like: “Oh, one more comment on the old subject is…” This shows the other person you were listening and paying attention, yet wanted to share your thoughts. In the second example, make every effort to answer questions before moving forward. Even to say, “Oh, let me answer that later,” then continue with your comments is better than ignoring it as though you didn’t hear the question at all.
A great exercise is what I call the “instant replay technique.” In your head, practice repeating what the other person just said. This will take your focus off what you are thinking and turn the focus back toward the other person. In some instances, repeat the comment or question aloud as a sign you heard what they said. This can also help to tie in your next comment. The more you practice the “instant replay technique,” the better listener you will become, able to participate in the flow of conversation at its optimum level.
4. Make sure people are interested in what you have to say. Even though I thoroughly enjoy certain television shows and certain wines and foods, I don’t discuss these subjects with people who have little or no interest in them. Learn what interests other people before going on and on. Ask questions to determine a fit, such as: “Do you have a favorite television show?” “What kind of shows do you watch most often?”
Do not assume just because this person says they like opera or gardening they are into hearing every little detail. Gauge their level of interest first by how well they are hanging on your every word. Be sensitive to whether the person is truly listening and engaged in what you are saying. Be aware, if you notice the person breaking eye contact, shuffling their feet, yawning, or nodding or saying words that don’t sound genuine, you may be boring them to death.
5. After asking a question, care about the answer. Do not be a person who asks questions for the sake of doing so as filler and not caring about the reply. Why ask the question in the first place if you’re not interested? A great conversationalist strives to achieve an evenly balanced conversation where all parties have opportunities to ask questions, answer questions, and then also to respond to answers. A training exercise is to ask at least 3 questions for every five minutes of conversation, and then care enough to remember what the questions and answers were.
6. Recap conversations. Train yourself to recap and debrief conversations. Do it the moment you hang up the telephone or leave the person. Ask yourself: What information did I learn from this conversation? Was the focus or purpose of the conversation met? Did I allow or give equal time in speaking? Did it appear I did more of the talking than the other person? Was the conversation a pleasant experience for me? Did it appear to end well on both sides? Overall, did I enhance the life and my friendship with the other person in a meaningful way?
7. Respect people’s time. Especially when calling or entering someone’s office during business hours, ask the person if it is a good time to talk before getting into the point of the conversation.
8. Show appreciation. End conversations with cordial, uplifting words and phrases, such as: “Great speaking with you,” “Thank you for your time” and “I enjoyed our chat.”
BONUS: Do not take over other people’s conversations. When someone other than you is the primary focus of a conversation, do not take over the conversation by interjecting your own experiences. For instance, Joe says he recently visited Greece on vacation and how beautiful it was. You interject with “Wow! It is a great place. I went there for three weeks last year and it was this and that. We visited six cities, including blah, blah, blah, and yaddi, yaddi, yah.” Instead, allow Joe to discuss his trip to Greece as the focus of the conversation. Add brief comments to support and enhance Joe’s stories and perhaps ask Joe questions about his trip to find commonality or to learn something new. Most importantly, do not steal the conversation away from Joe. Hold your tongue! Only when Joe has said he piece may you continue the conversation by taking the lead.
Question of the month: Do you know someone who hogs conversations? Do you have stories to share about conversation hogs and how you’ve handled the situation? Ask questions to gain more insights on how to avoid being a conversation hog or being around a conversation hog.