Tip of the ice berg
Very soon you are going to sit at your Christmas table and spend time with your family. You will probably have to answer some of the same annoying or judgmental questions as a year before. What’s even worse you might be the one asking them. Asking those kind of question is just the tip of the bad conversation ice berg. This ice berg is actually able killing our positive mental state. Can you recall a situation when you were felling really great, you started a conversation and very soon you were felling angry and upset?
Just like in any other aspect of life we all make mistakes during our conversations. But can we improve our conversation skills? If you know me at least a little bit already you know this question shouldn’t even be here. Of course, we can get better and improve them. It might take you a while to change the conversation habits that you have developed through your life but it is very possible.
There are some very common conversation sins we all can avoid during this coming Christmas. With a little self-reflection and self-awareness, you can avoid the death of your positive mental state from those bad conversation.
But first you need to answer one question. What’s the purpose of any of your conversations? Not any given conversation, your conversation. Do you want to get or give some information, some kind of a feedback? Do you want to state your point of view or get something, straight? Do you want to make someone feel better? Maybe it’s about connecting with someone or strengthening that bond? Whatever it is there is one common reason for all that. In my opinion all conversations and interactions are about adding value. Adding and getting information, points of view, feedback, emotions, connection. Most people don’t even realize it and others keep forgetting about it.
We know that in general conversations are about adding value and now it gets really tricky. Because most of people think it can only be done by talking. It’s a very slippery slope because there is a whole spectrum of ways to add value in a conversation besides that. If you are an extravert it’s very easy to become a conversation narcissist. A conversation narcissist love nothing more than to talk about himself. The only reason they ask the other person a question like, “How was your weekend?” is so they can circle it back around to them again, “that’s nice…let me tell you about what happened to me…”. They rarely inquire seriously about the other person or ask follow up questions.
Wait to hear my story
I’ve been guilty of this one on more occasions than I wish to remember. Everyone involved in a conversation should get their time in the spotlight. Don’t interrupt someone when they are telling some anecdote or their view on what you are discussing to divert the attention back to yourself. Don’t hijack their story about work before it’s finished, to share your best work anecdote. Find a balance between listening and talking.
How often do you find yourself just paraphrasing or repeating what the other person said? If someone says, “That movie was great!” do you say, “Yeah, that was a cool movie!”? When we enter the parrot mode we act like and think we are having a conversation, but in reality, we rarely actually offer anything substantive. Of cures if we echo and paraphrase others in a small, deliberate fashion it can get us nice results. For instance, people will see us as similar to them and that will increase the level of trust in relationship. But relying only on echoing and paraphrasing others is very shortsighted and will make the relation extremely shallow. If you find yourself just echoing what people are saying, try to offer substantive opinions or observations as well.
You may have most fascinating stories and opinions to share, but if your energy cannot support it, people may find you hard to listen to. Lacking energy or emotion when you talk can ruin your conversation faster than almost any other bad habit. Good conversation needs to be alive. It should flow with energy between both sides. If you are not giving your energy, then you are probably subtracting from it. If we want people to be interested, we need to think of our voice as a roller coaster ride for them.
We have an amazing, incredible toolbox and yet it is a toolbox that very few people have ever opened. I would like to take out just a few tools for us to play with while we speak.
Falsetto register may not be very useful most of the time. Some of us talk up in our nose, most of us speak down in our throat but if you want weight you need to go down to your chest. We vote and chose people with lower voices because we associate depth with power and with authority.
It is the rhythm, the meta-language that we use in order to impart meaning. It’s root one for meaning in conversation. People who speak all on one note are quite hard to listen to. That’s where the word monotonic comes from. Monotone.
You can get very excited by saying something really quickly or you can slow right down to emphasize. At the end of that is our old friend silence. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of silence in a talk, it there? It can be very powerful.
You can get really excited by using high volume or you can have your listeners really pay attention by getting very quiet.
Be aware of the tools you can use to get the conversation interesting. Vary your pace and your volume. Don’t let it be predictable.
Let’s stick with predictability for a second. Are you a Predictable Talker? Is everything you say serious and literal? Play around with your responses. The best conversation is playful and unpredictable.
Train your mind to start considering the unexpected responses. Next time someone asks you a question or makes a comment, mentally think about what response would be unexpected or unpredictable (within reason!). Once in a while, try one of these unexpected comments and see how you do. You may surprise yourself.
I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen - Ernest Hemingway
Don’t be like most people. Don’t just wait eagerly for your turn to talk. Put your own ego on the side-line. Learn to actually listen to what people are saying. When you start to really listen, you’ll pick up on loads of potential paths in the conversation. But avoid yes or no type of questions as they will not give you much depth.
Let them be a star
Don’t do it all at once. You’ll just feel confused and overwhelmed. The one thing that we can do right away that will instantly improve our conversations, is to be genuinely interested in the other person. When someone tells you something, keep the focus on them, ask follow up questions, let them be a star.
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