5 Tips to Have Better Conversations
Remember that time in school when you were walking to class and tried to say hi to your crush and they ignored you, later pretending they couldn’t hear you because they had headphones in, but you know they could hear you because they were talking to their friend right before you walked up? Wow, it’s crazy how that happened to both of us!
Looking back, I know why that happened to me… I hadn’t engaged her in good conversations. In fact, now I realize that I had consistently broken the rules of great conversation. I can’t be too hard on myself though; I didn’t know the elements of a great conversation at the time. But by the end of this nicely packaged list, you’ll be ready to get the girl (or the job) like I couldn’t.
Before we jump into the list, I want to ask you an important question:
Is there someone in your life who you’ve avoided because you didn’t want to talk to them?
If you answered “yes,” that means you can actually tell what a bad conversation feels like. Congrats, you’re already on the right path!
It’s important for us to recognize what bad conversations feel like, but also to know the stakes of a bad conversation (either personal or professional). People might subtly avert their eyes at a coffee shop when you walk in (personal - ouch). But even worse, your clients can simply stop referring you to friends, signing up for your classes, or buying your products because of the way you interact with them(professional - mega ouch). You might not even notice you’re having bad conversations, but other people do. A great reminder is this: people remember less of what you say, and more of how you make them feel, and they keep going back when they feel listened to and appreciated. So without further ado, here are my 5 tips to have better conversations, and get out ahead of the problem before it’s even an issue.
1. Let go of the outcome
When you enter a conversation with an intended outcome in mind, your brain will stay occupied with checking in on your progress. Sometimes I’ve fallen prey to this when I’m wondering “am I talking too much? Do they like me? Should I start to think of what to say next?” It’s hard to have fun when you’re caught up in all of that. Don’t turn conversations into a job interview for yourself (or the other person)! Let the goal be to give your attention, go with the flow of conversation, and forget any other “goal” until later.
2. Share emotions not facts
Put simply: stay out of the weeds. People don’t care about the years, names, and dates of your story. They care about you. Your conversations will skyrocket into the stratosphere when you put to words how you feel, specifically about the present moment. Here’s an example of a fact vs emotion statement:
Fact: Oh look, the silverware at this restaurant is the same kind my mom uses.
Emotion: I love the silverware at this restaurant, it reminds me of dinners with my mom and family around the table when I was a kid.
It’s a pretty small change, but the second phrase is going to elicit a response and drive the conversation into a much deeper and more satisfying place. Try it out and let me know how it feels.
3. Ask better questions
If you’re telling a story about a thrilling experience in your life and someone asks you “wow, were you terrified?” you’re going to hear and respond to the most powerful word in the sentence: terrified. The problem is, the only answer is: “Yes I was,” or “no I wasn’t.” Don’t fill in the blanks for them; let them explain what it was like.
It’s better to start with “who, what, where, when, why, and how questions.” Ask “What was that like?” or “How did that feel?”
Here’s an example:
Last week, I was listening to a story about driving through a snowstorm and I said “wow, HOW did that rank on your list of scariest driving experiences?” and the response was a continuation to another interesting story! You’ll learn a lot more about people, and be so entertained by the responses you get when you ask better questions.
4. Don’t pontificate
I can keep this one pretty short and sweet. If you want to state your opinion without any opportunity for response or argument or pushback or growth… write a blog. You can express yourself all you want! But in a conversation, there needs to be back and forth, and an effort towards understanding the other person.
Buddha said (I’m paraphrasing here) “If your mouth is open, you’re not learning.” And it’s become more obvious to me over the years that conversations go further when I’m focused on listening to the other person rather than getting out what I want to say. You might be thinking “listening is hard!” which is true. Listening takes discipline. We’d often rather just be the one talking - we’re the center of attention and get to bolster our own identity. And even further, It can be hard because we actually listen about twice as fast as we talk… so when someone is speaking, we’re hearing their words and filling in that other 50% of time with stray thoughts. It’s a lot of effort to slow down and listen. But I’m sure you’ve heard the age old adage: to be interesting, you first have to be interested. Work hard to listen well. You’ll thank me later.
I hope this list is beneficial for you, and that you can take at least one of these tips and start using it in your daily life, even this week, and watch the results. Don’t try to tackle all 5 at once; focus on the one that sticks out most to you and perfect it before moving on.
NOTE: An important note about this blog is that it started off as a 5 minute talk I gave to our team, so I had to keep the list brief. There are so many important lessons that I drew from for this talk that helped guide me, and this list could easily be twice as long. These tips are just the favorites for me. There are so many great resources from TED talks to Tiktoks, so if you want more, tweet us to continue the conversation!