Making Conversation: A Skill, Not an Art

By Maud Purcell, LCSW, CEAP

Do cocktail parties strike terror in your heart? If so, you are not alone. Although the ability to converse with others comes naturally to some, it is a skill that most of us must develop.
Many women don’t realize that effective conversation has little to do with what you know, but everything to do with how you present yourself. The 19th century French novelist Guy de Maupassant said it best:

“Conversation … is the art of never appearing a bore, of knowing how to say everything interestingly, to entertain with no matter what, to be charming with nothing at all.”

The ability to converse well with others is not some elusive thing, obtainable only by a chosen few. With a little elbow grease, even shy women can learn to feel comfortable speaking with anyone, about anything. Here’s my tried and true formula:

  • Take a personal inventory. Make a list of your personal strengths and accomplishments. Keep this with you at all times, and add to it. Review it regularly, but especially before entering social situations that usually cause you discomfort. This will remind you that you do have much to offer.

  • Ask a friend. Request honest input from a trusted friend. How does she think you come across in social situations? What does she think you do well? How could you converse more effectively with others? Better yet, ask a couple of confidantes for their assessment of you.

Now you are ready to make a Self-Development list. Chances are good that one or more of the following steps will address your weak areas:

  • Speak less and listen more. People love to speak about themselves. In social situations, be sure to ask others about their interests, work, opinions, etc. This will take the focus off of you. A side benefit of this approach is that you will invariably be viewed as a great conversationalist, even though you’ve said little or nothing!

  • Develop your sense of humor. Begin taking note of the things that make you laugh. Pay attention to what others find humorous. You don’t have to be particularly quick-witted or a great storyteller in order to make others laugh. In fact, some of the funniest (and safest) material is that which is self-deprecating. As a side benefit this approach lets your listener know that you don’t take yourself too seriously.
  • Brush up on current events. Even with limited time, you can have a cursory knowledge of what’s happening in the world. Subscribe to a weekly news magazine or at least skim the headlines of a daily paper. You can even catch the news online these days! You don’t have to be an expert in order to casually refer to something that is newsworthy.
  • Keep track of new and interesting experiences. What have you recently enjoyed? A trip to a space museum? Thai food? Your first opera? Fly-fishing? New (and attention-getting) experiences will always provide fodder for stimulating conversation.
  • Be a bearer of good tidings. Keep your comments upbeat and enthusiastic. People are instinctively drawn to positive conversation. And notice how quickly they will excuse themselves if you begin discussing your current health problems!
  • Keep your own comments short and to the point. No one is interested in hearing you drone on about your own opinions or achievements. Brevity and humility go a long way in social situations.

In sum, you need be neither a rocket scientist nor a brain surgeon in order to participate in lively conversation. Being a good listener is half the battle. Having fresh information to share, and delivering it with a sense of humor, is the other half. Maybe that next cocktail party won’t be so bad, after all!

 

APA Reference
Purcell, M. (2006). Making Conversation: A Skill, Not an Art. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 25, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/making-conversation-a-skill-not-an-art/000690
Scientifically Reviewed
    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jan 2013
    Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.

 

 

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