Why a Good Conversationalist
Relies on Etiquette

Three Men Talking

Who wouldn’t desire to be thought of as an interesting person?  Much of this characteristic depends on how you engage others in conversation.

Are you communicating genuine interest in the other person?  Are you only half-listening?  Are you sending “I’m listening” signals?

Communicating is different than conversing.  You’re always communicating whether you know it or not.  Sure, you communicate with spoken words, but also with facial expressions, hand gestures, posture, and stance.

Communication as a whole doesn’t depend on etiquette.  But being a good conversationalist does.

The Most Important Part

A great conversation requires not just respect but includes courtesy and effective listening to hear what might be behind the words spoken. 

There are five distinct phases in the relative moment of listening: 

  1. Receiving
  2. Understanding
  3. Remembering
  4. Evaluating
  5. Responding

The Golden Rule of listening is that you listen to appreciate.  Find the value in what someone is saying.  Not only does this practice keep you mindful of showing kindness, you’ll automatically think of clarifying questions to ask that help keep the conversation going.  

However, we are all guilty of letting our minds wander or finding ourselves genuinely uninterested in what someone is saying.  In these situations, you miss portions of dialogue and can easily get caught not following along.

You can detect when you’re only half-listening if:

  • You can’t recall the person’s name or worried that you don’t recall it.
  • You don’t have a context for what the person is saying.
  • You’re thinking of something else or what you want to say when he stops talking.
  • You couldn’t re-phrase or re-state what the person just said.
  • You aren’t aware that your plate is the only one near full!
  • You’re judging yourself in thinking that you don’t have anything intelligent to say.

If any of these things are happening, do your best to pull yourself into being present with your conversation partner.  Effective listening is essential if you want to be a good conversationalist.

Every Good Conversationalist Knows Small Talk

What is often underestimated in conversation?  Small talk! 

Small talk is the bridge between you and another person.  The beauty of it is that it’s commitment-free.

Here’s how it works: 

  • You see someone in your vicinity and, whether you know that person or not, think of something you have or may have in common. 
  • You then mention that thing in common. 
  • Depending on the response, you may ask a follow-up question.
  • Depending on that response and the situation at hand, you may ask another question to keep the conversation going or excuse yourself and take your leave.

It takes some practice, but it’s the perfect way to meet new people, engage someone you’ve wanted to talk with, or establish common ground before a segue into a deep conversation subject.

Even if you choose not to fully engage and continue the conversation, the person you approached will appreciate that you took the initiative.

Small talk is a sizing-up portion of the conversation so that you know what you’re getting into before you fully engage.  It’s the taste test that lets a cook know what seasonings to adjust before serving the meal.

Keep it Positive

Sometimes what stands out are differences, yet always looking for the common ground is a pillar of being a good conversationalist.

If you give the other person the benefit of the doubt, and even elevate his intentions in your mind, it can yield a delightful conversation.

Conversation is not about debate.  Debate has its place in life, and while we all hope to be able to communicate our ideas in a straightforward and logical way, a one-on-one chat is not necessarily the ideal forum for conflicting perspectives.

Keep your words, expressions, and mannerisms positive.  And if a conflicting idea or perspective is brought up, show respect for the person expressing it – even though you are not obligated to agree.

Being a good conversationalist is not an end state.  It requires consistent and never-ending practice.  But a default to positivity, respect, and kindness will earn you the reputation of being one.

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