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spike bullet June 2008 - The Art of Making Conversation

Human motivators
Conversation starters
Active listening
Common barriers to listening
The Twelve Most Effective Listening Techniques
Resources (links, books, articles, the lighter side)

color bulletThe Art of Making Conversation

Social conversation is the most common of all interchanges that go on in the workplace and the community at large.  It is by far the most common among societal inhabitants.  It is the polite interchange between colleagues and associates in the workplace; it is the "niceties" among strangers; and it is the small talk that changes strangers into familiar beings.  It is social interaction.  

It forms the social weave of organizations, corporations and informal alliances.  It identifies cultures and the people in them.  It is our way of getting to know people, becoming comfortable with them, learning more about them.  Without it, conversation would be much more rigid and cumbersome.

There is also the academic side of conversation.  This is where we demonstrate our capacity for information, and our formulation of ideas and concepts.  Business is built on facts and ideas; social relationships are deepened by information and concepts learned from others.  Here is where we aim at our goals and choose our words very carefully to support the goals.  The other person is also striving toward his or her goals.  This makes conversation a competitive game; all too often, it is a game of "one-upmanship."  With practice, we can turn this conversation into an exchange of ideas and information that can be used to great advantage.  We must recognize it is a game of give and take, of speak and listen.

There are many magic elements that, when used properly, unlock oneís natural qualities and let those qualities shine.  Because these qualities are natural and unique to us personally, they readily increase our social and business popularity.  These magic elements that do all of the unlocking of popularity include a pinpoint sense of timing, a method of keeping listeners attentive, an ability to key into the climate of the conversation, and the ability to use our five senses to add sparkle to any conversation.

Surely, you have noticed how good conversationalists quickly feel at home when conversing with an individual or a group of people.  They seem to subtly take command of the group, artfully blending the various personalities in the group together and keeping everyone stimulated.  

They skillfully fan the flames of the conversation so they donít die out, leaving an opportunity for them to acquire what they seek.  This is a trait that is noticed and admired by much of the population and itís the same population that does not feel they have such ability.  

Surveys tell us that nearly 60 percent of all survey respondents indicate they do not feel they have the gift of gab.  Once we understand what the "gift of gab" truly is, it becomes very simple for anyone to master.

The rules are simple: give people what they want, never threaten them and always be open. 

We will never attain our goals or master our objectives until we learn exactly what the other person wants out of the conversation.  We do that by concentrating on what we can do for them and postponing what we want them to do for us.  

To do that, we must understand a little of what makes that person tick.  If we think more about what our listener wants to hear and less about what we want to say, the response to our conversation will more often be what we are seeking.  We will be in control of the conversation.

Human Motivators

This is far easier than it sounds, when we realize that people have certain motivators or certain needs that must be met to make them feel at ease and comfortable:

As people:

  • We need to belong, to feel we are part of something bigger than ourselves.
  • We need a sense of personal power over the circumstances in our lives.
  • We need to be recognized for our efforts and accomplishments.
  • We need to be loved, no matter the form that takes.
  • We need freedom to think and choose as we wish.
  • We need a sense of worth, a feeling of pride and importance.
  • And we need emotional peace and security to keep our balance and maintain it.

By understanding human motivation and helping others realize these needs, you will become a powerful new person with an exciting personality and great influence.  This can be handled through conversation.  

Once you learn these techniques and practice them a few times, you will notice they become an instinctive part of your personality.

Conversation starters

The easiest way to get a conversation started is to encourage the other person(s) to start talking.  Simply ask a question that cannot be answered yes or no, or offer a story they can listen to.

"What did you think about -----" "Let me tell you how -----" "Here is something I think is worth thinking about ------" "Have you heard about -----" and so on.  

Keep in mind not to talk about yourself.  Give the other person a way to get into the conversation, give them some interest in the conversation, and, most of all, keep it brief and to the point.

A particular conversational hint concerns male and female conversations based on gender alone.  While these styles are not absolute, they have been proven to produce improved conversational interaction between members of the opposite gender.  

Consider that men are objective by nature; they see life as objects, facts, specific goals, the bottom line.  They talk in terms of the objective, physical world.

On the other hand, women tend to feel the world.  They are much more subjective by nature, feeling emotions, sensing nuances, relating to emotions, and seeing and hearing things in relation to how they fit together.

In conversation with either gender, at the conclusions to your remarks ask, "What did you think about that incident?" or "How did it make you feel?" or "Tell me a little bit about how you saw it."   

This should help you to know with whom you are talking.  Ask questions and involve the other person ó that encourages them to talk.  Then, be prepared to listen.

Listening is a very important part of conversation.  Therefore, we all must practice our active listening skills.  Those are the skills we use when we consciously listen to the speaker, where we try to understand what he or she is saying, and when we try to understand what the speaker meant by what was said.  

It must be a conscious effort because most often we resort to thinking about what we want to say, to what is important to us, and we fail to hear the other person.  We are also busy anticipating the opportunity to get our "two cents" in.  We often find that our mind wanders in conversations.  

Active listening

Active listening helps us avoid such wanderings.

Why should we want to listen better?  Listening gives the information we need to know about the other personís motivation, needs and concerns.  Like a great detective, you will learn a great deal by simply doing a good job of listening.  Listen to not just the words.  Listen for the meaning behind the words themselves.  It is very important to you in gaining the upper hand in conversation, negotiations or management.

Here are five steps to active listening that will make a difference in your ability to listen and persuade:

  1. Listen to the content.  Listen to what the speaker is saying in terms of facts and ideas
  2. Listen to the intent.  Listen to the emotional meaning of the speaker and what he or she is saying.  Use your intuition to "hear" the underlying messages.
  3. Assess the speakerís nonverbal communication.  Read and interpret what the speaker is "saying" with his or her body language and other nonverbal signals.
  4. Monitor your nonverbal communication and the emotional filters.  Be aware of the messages you are sending with your nonverbal communication.  Be aware of the emotional filters that affect your understanding of the receiver.
  5. Listen to the speaker non-judgmentally and with empathy.  Try to put yourself in the speakerís shoes and understand what is shaping his or her feelings.  Donít prejudge the speaker.

Sound difficult and hard to do?  Perhaps in the beginning.  

Active listening means more effective communication.  Putting these five steps into practice is important, and requires time and effort.

Common barriers to listening

Like emotional and mental filters, there are physical and mental distractions or barriers that impair your ability to listen effectively.  These barriers are not filters.  They are not part of the brain that decides what input to use.  Rather, they are things that get in the way of your ability to listen in the first place.  With emotional and mental filters, you listen selectively.  In most cases, barriers can be controlled so that you may practice active listening.

There are three types of external barriers: physical, noise and movement  All of these can be controlled, especially if you are in control of the environment.

There are also internal barriers: distraction, lack of motivation, misreading non-verbal clues, hidden agendas, standards and expectations, prejudging and emotions vs. intellect.

The Twelve Most Effective Listening Techniques

  1. Eliminate as many external distractions as you can.
  2. Eliminate as many internal distractions as you can.
  3. Come prepared to a meeting so you can actively listen to others.
  4. Take notes if you begin to daydream.
  5. Do not respond only to what is implied. Respond to the total message.
  6. Identify words that trigger your anger, and control your reaction. Try to understand why these words make you instantly angry.
  7. Respond to a speaker non-judgmentally.
  8. Do not prepare your response while someone is still talking.
  9. Do not go into a communication situation with your mind already made up.
  10. Understand ahead of time what your options may be regarding certain words or ideas that may be expressed.  Don't pre-judge: just be prepared.
  11. If you realize you are not listening, physically move forward in your seat or, if standing, move toward the speaker, if possible.
  12. Do not rely on others to interpret what happened or what was said.

Source: Excerpt from Spin and Promote Your Way to the Top: A master guide to becoming well known for anything you do by Michael Anthony © 2005.  

  Internet Resources

book graphic  Books   -  Disclosure: We get a small commission for purchases made via links to Amazon.

world wide web - articles  Articles

Related newsletter articles:
    August 1997 - Improving verbal communications
    November 2000 - Effective Written Communications
    March 2005 - Male/Female Communication at Work
    April 2001 - Consulting Skills for Managers
    April 2000 - The Art of Listening
    July 2006 - Giving and Receiving Feedback
    June 2005 - Communication Tips: When Less is More
    February 2003 - Agree and Disagree in Peace
    September 2003 - Dealing with Difficult People (Working with Personality Dragons)
    October 2004 - Conflict Resolution: Winning Without War
    September 2007 - Crucial Conversations
    June 1997 -- Basic Human Needs

smiley graphic  The Lighter Side  

In excited conversation we have glimpses of the universe, hints of power native to the soul, far-darting lights and shadows of an Andes landscape, such as we can hardly attain in lone meditation.  Here are oracles sometimes profusely given, to which the memory goes back in barren hours.
... Ralph Waldo Emerson
Ideal conversation must be an exchange of thought, and not, as many of those who worry most about their shortcomings believe, an eloquent exhibition of wit or oratory
Emily Post
A single conversation across the table with a wise person is worth a month's study of books
Chinese proverb
There is no such thing as a worthless conversation, provided you know what to listen for.  And questions are the breath of life for a conversation. 
James Nathan Miller
Conversation may be compared to a lyre with seven chords - philosophy, art, poetry, love, scandal, and the weather.  
... Anna Brownell Jameson
Conversation should be pleasant without scurrility, witty without affectation, free without indecency, learned without conceitedness, novel without falsehood.  
... William Shakespeare
The biggest mistake is believing there is one right way to listen, to talk, to have a conversation -- or a relationship. 
Deborah Tannen
The great secret of succeeding in conversation is to admire little, to hear much; always to distrust our own reason, and sometimes that of our friends; never to pretend to wit, but to make that of others appear as much as possibly we can; to hearken.  
... Benjamin Franklin
He is so full of pleasant anecdote;  So rich, so gay, so poignant in his wit, Time vanishes before him as he speaks, And ruddy morning through the lattice peeps Ere night seems well begun.
... Joanna Baillie
Did you ever notice how difficult it is to argue with someone who is not obsessed with being right? 
Wayne W. Dyer
Communication sometimes is not what you first hear, listen not just to the words, but listen for the reason.
... Catherine Pulsifer

About our resource links:  We do not endorse or agree with all the beliefs in these links.   We do keep an open mind about different viewpoints and respect the ability of our readers to decide for themselves what is useful.

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