You might not think of conversational skills as a make-or-break part of your skillset. But knowing how to make conversation with the people you work with can serve you well professionally.
Having quality conversations with your managers, clients and coworkers probably isn’t officially a part of your job description. However, the way you interact and talk with the people you work with every day is a really big deal. Being a good conversationalist could do wonders for your career. And, alternatively, being kind of terrible at it could really hold you back.
It’s easy to fall into some bad conversational habits both at work and outside of it. But, it’s also possible to identify these problems and solve them. For example, someone who often stands with their arms folded sternly across their chest can recognize the message their body language is sending and make a different choice. Even little changes like this one can make a big difference.
But, there’s a lot that goes into being a good conversationalist — and lots of rewards associated with improving the skill.
The benefits of being a good conversationalist
- Being able to express yourself better. Having great ideas is one thing. Being able to communicate them to others is something else entirely. When you improve your conversational abilities, you also get better at expressing yourself and being heard. Being able to share your ideas more clearly and dynamically is a huge deal. Others will understand you, and your thoughts and ideas, more completely. And, that could do wonders for your career.
- Improved relationships. Improving your conversational abilities can have a 360-degree effect at work. It can dramatically shift and improve the relationships you have with coworkers, bosses, the people you manage and clients. Good communication improves your professional relationships because it builds trust and understanding. Clear and honest conversation is essential for any healthy relationship. The ones you establish at work are no exception.
- Elevated mood. It feels really good to be understood. And, it can be terribly frustrating to struggle with the opposite. Therefore, improving your conversational abilities ultimately has a calming effect on you and those around you. Things like frequent interruptions and misunderstandings can increase feelings of tension and anxiety. A good talk, on the other hand, has a calming and happiness-boosting effect.
- Heightened value. Not everyone excels at the art of conversation. Still, it’s a very valuable skill. If you’re a good conversationalist, you’ll increase your value in the eyes of your employer. There are a lot of people out there who can do the job effectively. But, being able to talk about what you do in a way that promotes understanding and progress is something special.
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Tips for making conversation:
Focusing on improving your ability to listen might seem like a funny place to start. But, listening is perhaps the most important part of being a good conversationalist. First of all, it shows the person that you’re talking with (not at) that you care about what they have to say. Also, it allows you to respond appropriately and keep the conversation going.
“Good conversations require a give and take, just like keeping a ball in the air during a game of catch,” Anne Green, president and CEO of CooperKatz & Company, told Fast Company. “When someone directs a question your way – when the ball is thrown at you – you should always respond with an answer that will continue the flow of dialogue, passing the ball back and never letting it drop.”
In order to go back-and-forth during a conversation, you have to be able to really listen to the person you’re speaking with. Make a point to tune into the other person’s words and also pay attention to what their body language is telling you. This will help you listen better. And, it encourages you to engage more completely with the conversation, which will help you to further hone your communication skills.
2. Find the right balance with eye contact
Whether or not you make eye contact during a conversation might seem like a little thing at first. But, it can have a powerful effect. Science has proven that folks pay more attention to people who are looking at them than they do to those whose gaze is planted elsewhere. Looking into the face and eyes of the person you’re speaking with helps them to feel valued and respected. It acts almost as a social glue, drawing conversational participants together.
However, too much eye contact can be more than a little creepy, especially in a professional setting. Researchers have found that about 3.2 seconds of eye contact from a stranger is about as much as most people are comfortable with. But, if someone is a friend, more is OK. As a general rule, as long as the eye contact is wanted and not overly prolonged, it’s a good thing. So, just don’t overdo it.
3. Don’t neglect audibility
It’s basically impossible to have a good conversation if the other person is struggling to hear or understand you. Think back to the last time you interacted with someone who was talking too quietly, or maybe too quickly, for you to be able to make out what they were saying. You may have asked them to repeat themselves a few times before being able to respond. How did this conversation make you feel? If you’re like most people, it was probably at least a little frustrating.
Others have to be able to understand you, first and foremost. It doesn’t matter if your ideas and contributions are super interesting and important if they aren’t heard. So, be sure to slow down and speak up.
4. Be interested and interesting
Good conversationalists share interesting ideas during their interactions with others. There’s still room for small talk within this model. However, branching out into topics beyond the weather and celebrity gossip is an important part of being a good conversationalist.
Sure, it’s great to show interest in the topics that others introduce. But, it’s equally important that you bring interesting things to the table.
However, don’t talk about yourself too much. (People who talk about themselves all the time tend to have less-than-stellar reputations among their colleagues.) Some topics are a bit too personal for the workplace anyway.
Instead, talk about things that interest you. Or, start a conversation about something you recently read, or learned in some other way, that you found exciting. Being interesting as well as interested is essential for good conversation.
5. Avoid rigidity and the need to be right
Good conversations have a natural back-and-forth to them. And, it’s only natural that, on occasion, disagreements surface within that structure. Some folks can get really hung up during this part of a conversation. One person disagrees, the other fires back and then another point is made. Before you know it, you’re in an all-out argument.
Don’t let your need to be right interfere with an otherwise positive and enjoyable conversation. Once you’ve made your point, let it go. You’ve spoken your piece, and others have a right to express theirs. You don’t have to come to an agreement in order to move forward when this happens. Instead, indicate that you understand what the other person means and leave it there.
These small clashes are actually opportunities to show how flexible, kind and positive you really are. So, don’t waste the chance. Demonstrating that you’re more than happy to move on to other topics even though someone disagreed with you shows good character. Besides, when you really believe in the things you say, you don’t have to cling to them so tightly.
6. Demonstrate sincere interest
When it comes to making conversation, it’s always a good idea to keep in mind just how much a lot of people love to talk about themselves. It may seem as though some people are only half paying attention through conversational small talk, or your stories. That is, until you get around to talking about them.
Asking questions is a critical part of being a good conversationalist. You’ll want to be careful not to pry or overstep any bounds within a work context. But, you should still demonstrate sincere interest in others thoughts, ideas and stories. Listen closely, too. Then, build off of what the other person said by asking a couple of follow up questions.
It’s even better if you can double back to prior conversations and build in some follow-ups. “How’s your son feeling, Bill? Is he back to school yet after that flu?” These kinds of things demonstrate that you listened and that you cared enough to retain the conversation. That should help to build trust and enhance the richness of future conversations.
Also, be mindful of your body language. This is another way that you show that you’re listening — or, that you’re not. Demonstrate kindness and trustworthiness with your body language by smiling, having an open posture and looking at the person you’re speaking with. And, for goodness sake, stay off of your phone when talking to people. You might think that you’re listening just as well when simultaneously checking your text messages. But, part of listening is making others feel heard, and being on your phone works against that aim in a big way.
7. Keep it professional
No matter how close you are with some of the people at work, you should still be mindful to keep your conversations professional. Don’t overshare too much about your personal life, or dig into theirs. Try to keep the cursing to a minimum, if you use it at all. And, don’t gossip about the boss, your clients or other colleagues. These things undermine your reputation and your relationships.
Also, always be kind and courteous during your conversations at work. The office isn’t the right place to be overly sarcastic, for example. Don’t tease, or belittle or make jokes at the expense of others. A good rule of thumb is this: if you find yourself wondering whether or not something is appropriate, assume it isn’t.
Having good conversations at work can help you in your career and in the rest of your life too. It helps you to improve your reputation and build strong relationships. It also makes the workday just a little more fun. And, that’s a great thing, too.
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