Flex Your Conversation-Muscle

This post is all about talk – small talk, conversations, and how to better communicate. This is the most natural thing in the world, however, times changed. When was the last time you used an elevator and there was another person in there or joining on a different level? For most people this feels awkward, because for whatever reason, elevators seem to be an unofficial quiet room. People even try to avoid eye-contact and barely talk in there. Often, they even stop their conversation and continue once they got off. Maybe you were thinking of saying something and start some small talk, but you weren’t sure about what to say? This speechlessness or awkward silence can also happen during meetings or talks with colleagues, and is not limited to such an elevator situation.

Another phenomenon you can observe almost everywhere around you, is that people get together to catch up, have a drink, eat, or just talk, and you can bet that there will be moments of silence because everybody is focussed on their mobile phones. It’s pretty weird, right? You get together to meet with people just to be “busy” with your phone then. You know what I mean, right?

So what can you do about this? Awkward silence and disconnected conversations? This article is all about the art of social interaction and how to improve the most natural things in the world: Communication with another person.

I could write novels about this, but prefer to focus on easy to fix solutions as first aid. This article will help you:

  • Breaking the ice and starting conversations,
  • Having better conversations,
  • Being a better conversation partner,
  • Gaining trust to build and improve relationships.

Lets dive in.


Breaking the ice and starting conversations:

How do you start small talks and have some great conversations?

That’s somewhat of a weird question if you consider that having conversations is one of the most natural things in the world. Even dolphins communicate with another. It’s more of a modern trend that we lose the skill of simply talking to another. Modern technology brings us closer together if we are far apart, but it seems to create a bigger distance when you are face to face. So here some simple and easy to implement advices to take you “back to the roots”:


Don’t be afraid or shy. People are people. Nobody expects a miracle by just talking to you, so take it easy and don’t be intimidated. Believe it or not: Most people feel the same afraid as you. Be courageous and make the first step.


Use non-invasive questions. Don’t jump right into private details. The best way to start a conversation with somebody you don’t know is: “Hi! What’s your name and where are you from?” Sounds easy? It is! “Where are you from” is an interesting question in itself because people interpret the question differently. Some respond with their home town, their place of birth, some with their current location or their department.


Use open-ended questions. Start your questions with who, what, where, when, why, or how, so it can’t be scrubbed off with a short yes or no. Make them talk and let them. Listen closely. You will get a much more interesting answer and will find plentiful chances for follow up questions to keep the conversation running. Furthermore, people like to hear themselves talk. Studies show that people perceive a conversation more positive when they have the main portion talking.


Be flexible. Don’t stick to your pre-selected set of questions. Be in the moment and go with the flow of the conversation. If you give it room to develop, it’ll be much more interesting and fun. React to the responses of your conversation partner. Show interest. Ask follow-up questions.


Be open-minded. Everybody is an expert in something! Enter every conversation assuming that there is something you can learn. Set aside your personal opinion and be open, because everyone you’ll ever meet knows something that you don’t.


Don’t equate your experience with others’. Everybody made their own experiences, has different backgrounds, and different points of view. Everybody reacts differently to events. Know and respect that. And most importantly: Be honest if you have no idea about a topic! It is not just very rude to lie to someone, it is dangerous for you! Usually lies backfire very fast. Be honest and accept that you don’t know it all. You will find common ground if you just keep looking for it.


Screen outfit, accessories, desk, etc. People express their personality and taste with their outfits and accessories. These are great opportunities to start an interaction. May it be tattoos, jewelry, hip or trendy pieces, classic pieces, watch, or anything else. It is a perfect chance to give a compliment and start a conversation. If you get the chance to meet a colleague at their desk, keep your eyes open for personal items, such as family or vacation pictures. Often you will also find something which gives you a hint on their personal interests and hobbies.


Throw in a compliment. People love getting compliments. It’s charming, free, and will break the ice. Master the art of giving genuine compliments and people will love to be around you. But only honest compliments! Don’t invent stuff. People can smell that. Search for something that you really like. It could be a color they are wearing, a piece of their accessory, the way they present themselves, something they did or said.


Ask advice and opinion. If it fits, simply ask their expertise or opinion. People feel valued if they can contribute.


Try not to repeat yourself. It’s boring and doesn’t help the development of the conversation.


It’s not about you. Remember that it is not a presentation of your accomplishments. You are trying to make your opposite talk so they feel good and connect this good feeling with you.


Don’t be draggy. Be respectful and read the signs when someone has to go. Don’t stop them with your small talk and steel their time. When closing the conversation, thank them for taking out the time, and let them know that you appreciate it.


Don’t multi-task. Don’t think about all the things you could say or do rather than listening. Also let your phone disappear in a pocket so it doesn’t distract you. In best case, switch it off completely. Be present instead. If you don’t want to be part of the conversation, you can simply get out. Just don’t be half in it and half out of it.


Be genuinely interested and let them talk. People are very open to share their knowledge and experience with people who like to learn from them. Also they love to talk and it will make them feel good about you – even though you are just listening to them. It’s pretty easy. Show interest and ask questions. Then let them talk about themselves, their experiences and accomplishments, and listen to their adventures.

You don’t have to learn how you appear interested, if you simply are.


Most important:

LISTEN! If you aren’t listening to your counterpart, then you are not having a conversation. You can’t add value or say something meaningful if you don’t even pay attention to the situation and problem. Don’t listen with the intent to reply – listen with the intent to understand.


Go and give it a try! Implement these advices and let me know how it impacted your communications skills and conversations.


A conversation requires balance between talking and listening. Being a great listener is equally important to being a great talker.