7 Conversation Skills For Building Better Connections
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You know, for when you actually need to speak face-to-face instead of texting.
Long before the pandemic began, there were lots of complaints about conversation skills falling of track because everyone had become so used to texting, or emailing, or WhatsApping, or Tik-Toking, or…you get it.
And then, WHAM, a global pandemic forced us all to isolate ourselves from each other and dive even further into these other modes of communication to remain connected.
Now, as we crawl out from inside our shadowy caves, how can we re-evolve past grunting at each other on the street?
1: Put your phone away.
It had to start here. It HAD to.
“It’s fine, I leave my phone face down on the table.”
Well, it’s not fine, and I’ll tell you why.
Our phones have become an extension of ourselves so much so, that it’s easy to forget where we even are sometimes. People are literally crossing the street looking down at their phones. They’re on dates on their phones. They’re hanging out with friends…on their phones.
I’m all for the occasional selfie (obviously), or photo of the beautiful scenery or meal you just ordered, but once you’ve captured the moment, it’s time to actually enjoy it.
Putting your phone away sends the message that the person in front of you is more important than whatever’s happening on the screen in front of you (because they should be).
Undivided attention is a rarity in today’s society and is therefore even more valuable than ever. When was the last time you just focused on ONE thing?
You might not think people mind it that much if you’re scrolling Instagram during dinner, but it puts up an invisible barrier between you and the group or person, and each experience when you’re disconnected makes it less likely that you’ll be included in future plans.
Focusing your full attention on your friend/date/family member allows you to actually absorb what they’re saying and be in the moment — instead of waiting for that next notification to pop up on the screen so you can reflexively check it immediately.
2: Ask more questions.
There’s an old saying that tells us we’ve got two ears and one mouth because we should listen twice as much as we speak.
In a society where we’re conditioned to CONSTANTLY speak (posting on social media, creating content, making videos…) it’s difficult to stop and just listen.
But, the truth is that nobody wants to hear someone blabber on about themselves all the time, even though we all do enjoy the self-indulgent rant now and then.
Remember that it’s a conversation, not a presentation, and a dialogue requires two people to participate.
Questions are fun because they’re opportunities to learn. They’re also progressive because you can build off of them.
“What impact have you been trying to make lately? Oh, really? What methods have you been using to do that? What have your biggest challenges been?”
Each next question can build off the answer from the last. This is how we can follow up and keep a conversation moving forward. Asking for more details, diving deeper into the nitty gritty. Showing interest in someone else on a deeper level than other people usually do.
Think about it: We already established that people love to talk about themselves. So, (willingly) giving someone else the space to do just that (and actually listening to the response) can actually serve as a gift that you give.
Among all of the noise, everyone is struggling to be heard. If you can step outside of your own desires for a moment and allow another person to speak on their hopes, dreams, fears, or passions — they’ll walk away feeling seen and recognized.
What’s more, they’ll actually continue seeing YOU in a positive light, even if you didn’t really say much.
Being a great speaker may get you fans, but being a great listener will make you friends.
3: When you do speak, bring the value.
Conversations are like walking up a set of stairs, in that they build on top of each other.
When someone makes a point, it’s a great opportunity to sprinkle some value on top of it. “Oh yes! And, did you know that also…”
And, conversely, when your ideas and statements leave hooks for people to grab on to, it’s easy for them to build on top of your points as well.
“I’ve always felt strongly that XYZ, what do you think?”
We’ve all been in conversations where it feels like pulling teeth getting the other person to answer with any sort of substance, and it eventually just feels like an interview because it’s you asking them questions over and over again.
Don’t be that person. Be the person who is welcome in any conversation because people know that you always have interesting things to say and poignant questions to ask.
Protip: Watch lots of interviews or podcasts from people you admire that are great interviewers and knowledgeable in a variety of topics. You’ll notice patterns in how they ask questions, as well as how they reply when asked.
You’ll see how they can find small details in what someone says and pull out even more from them:
“I noticed that you said you’ve never eaten a potato, tell me more about that.”
Think of it like a flurry of little bits of information, and your job is to pick out the best pieces in order to build on.
4: Read more and DO MORE.
How is reading a conversation skill if it doesn’t require any conversation?
Simple: Well-read people know more stuff about more stuff.
I don’t mean reading memes or Instagram captions either, I mean reading real, substantive, knowledge-building text with depth. Books, audiobooks, whichever your weapon of choice, the most legendary conversationalists are ones who are the most interesting to talk to because of the wealth of knowledge they’ve accumulated.
Where else does knowledge come from besides just the pages of books?
I cannot express this strongly enough: Go do cool shit.
Travel, explore, experience new cultures, drive to the middle of nowhere and sit at a bar. Get on a plane. Walk around your city (safely). Look at graffiti. Walk into book stores.
Do. More. Cool. Shit.
This is how you amass real life knowledge that makes you someone people want to know about, and when people want to know about you, they ask you questions, and then you can surely BRING THE VALUE like we talked about in point #3.
5: Don’t hijack stories.
Have you ever had a conversation with someone who tried to turn everything around into something about them?
“Oh I know your neighbor is bad by MY NEIGHBOR is so much worse *insert 25 minute rant about bad neighbor.*
How many more conversations did you want to have with that person?
6: Be generous with compliments.
“Oh wow, I never thought of it that way before.”
“You know, that’s a great point, I’m going to use that next time.”
“I really admire your honesty.”
Firstly, compliments show that you’re paying attention to what someone’s saying enough to recognize the value in it. Secondly, it makes the person on the other end of the chat feel validated and fulfilled to hear that they’re seen, heard, and recognized.
Someone I look up to greatly, Tom Bilyeu, always says “The best way to be interesting is to be interested.”
When you help to make the people around you feel smart, or respected, or admired — they want to spend even more time around you. It lifts them up and makes them feel better about themselves, which then draws them closer to you. It makes you magnetic, and attractive. Not just to potential romantic partners, but to friends and business associates alike.
Everyone likes something (or someone) that makes them feel good about themselves.
7: Be a referral source.
Can you think of anyone who always seems to know…everything?
The best place to get dry cleaning done. The best small local bar. The best new show on Netflix. The best place to get your suit tailored.
“Oh hey I heard you tried that new sushi place, you’d totally love XYZ restaurant.”
Giving (good) referrals is a way to show that you care about the experience the other person is about to have, and in case you need to be just a bit more selfish, they’ll be thinking about you when they have that great experience. Referring people to great services or products is a way to help enhance their life through passing along your personal experiences, and it also makes you the “go-to” for cool happenin’ stuff.
Communication skills are just that — skills — and while we may be fighting against the influence of the screen, humans are still social animals who love to gossip, chat, interact, trade ideas, and change the world.
Developing these skills (and many others not mentioned here) can open doors and build relationships that will quite literally change your life.
Sometimes it starts with saying something. Other times, it starts with not saying something.
The right conversation skills will help you be sure about which is which.
James Michael Sama is an internationally recognized speaker, author, and personal development coach.
Finding success in creating hundreds of viral articles and videos on building limitless confidence and healthier relationships, James has accumulated over 38 million visitors to his website and a collective social media following of over 400,000.
James speaks at live events and in the media across the U.S. and has become a go-to expert with outlets such as CNN, Bravo, The New York Post, The Huffington Post, The Daily Beast, CNBC, The Boston Globe, CBS, and more.James Michael Sama
International speaker, writer, & adviser helping you build happier relationships. Seen: CNN, CNBC, NY Post, CBS, more. JamesMSama.com: 38 million+ views.
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