You communicate in countless ways daily, so it can be easy to take conversation for granted as a skill. If talking is just about as common as walking and eating, what would you need to improve at it?
The truth is that conversation is a complex and subtle process. Great conversationalists and effective communicators are quite rare. We all stand to benefit greatly from refining and adding to our skill of conversation.
Of course, you already have your own unique strengths and weaknesses. Observe and reflect on them — know your starting point. If you tend to find others cutting conversations short, perhaps you need to improve your listening skills. Alternatively, you may find that you usually leave conversations with unexpressed thoughts. In that case, focus on how to overcome your emotional reservations.
Whatever the case, you’ll soon be making great strides in communication and will subsequently enjoy the benefits of more success at work, greater self-confidence, and improved relationships in all areas.
1. Acknowledge the Voice in Your Head
Although it varies throughout the day, you have a voice — or sometimes, multiple voices — running in your head regularly. The voice comments, plans, reacts, and always acts as if it is you. The truth is that this running commentary is not always your best or wisest self, and you can do better!
Don’t let your inner monologue get in the way of your interactions with others. Whether it’s an office meeting or dinner conversation with friends, notice when your inner voice is trying to chime in. At that point, simply bring your attention back to the speaker.
You will be giving your conversation partner room to fully express themselves, which will in turn allow them to feel more comfortable overall. The result will be a deeper, more honest conversation.
2. Don’t Argue — Express Yourself (Maturely and Compassionately)
The most effective conversationalists avoid direct argument, but do so without suppressing their own thoughts and feelings. Operate on the assumption that we all have opinions and that the truth will rise to the top on its own. When you feel that someone else is wrong, tell them that you’d like to “share your perspective”. Tell them that your thoughts are simply based on your experiences and what you’ve read and heard.
Give the other person the freedom to come to their own conclusions. With few exceptions, a direct argument will only make someone defensive, hardening and narrowing their perspective.
3. Don’t Let Fear Dictate What You Say
Just as you shouldn’t let the voice in your head shouldn’t determine what you say, you also shouldn’t let fear place any roadblocks in the flow of the conversation.
As children, we are conditioned not to express ourselves fully. Even though you are a strong, capable adult now, those habits are often persistent.
Remember that you can express just about anything, if you say it in the right terms and are respectful of the other person. Notice when you are beginning to become nervous about speaking up. Experiment: start by expressing a little bit of what is on your mind. You will soon see that your fears were unwarranted, and you will enter into a more genuine conversation.
4. Admit What You Don’t Know
If you are like most people, you’ve had the experience of smiling and nodding to someone after they ask whether “you’re following” or whether “you’ve heard of” this or that. While it may seem beneficial to just go along, you are actually cheating both you and the other person out of a stronger connection.
Be honest when you don’t know or understand something. In most cases, the other person will respect you more for it. They will most certainly relate to you more, as we have all experienced the fear of not knowing what we feel we should.
5. Create Positivity
If you think that positivity is simply a buzzword or a gimmick, think again. Numerous scientific studies have proven that criticism, since it is often perceived as danger, prevents your brain from functioning at its optimal level. Conversely, positive talk stimulates the release of oxytocin, a hormone that activates networks in your prefrontal cortex, enabling you to be more creative and strategic in your thinking.
The implications for the workplace are enormous. Particularly if you are a manager or team leader, you can set the tone for the entire group. How you express yourself will play a large part in determining the capabilities of all involved.
If the people you speak with leave the conversation happier than when they entered it, you’ll know that you’ve done your job.
As you can see, there are several dimensions to great conversation. Focus, openness, maturity, humility, and positivity are all essential ingredients for creating the most powerful and effective communication. Know yourself and take the necessary steps — one at a time — to improve your abilities. You and everyone around you will only stand to gain.
Originally published at medium.com