There’s nothing like a good conversation! It gets you thinking, passes the time productively, and may even connect you to lucrative career opportunities. While there is no one skill that will make you a better conversationalist, there is a combination of skills and qualities you can develop that have positive implications for your personal life as well as your career.
What makes someone a good conversationalist?
Think about the people in your life who you love talking to. Perhaps you have a friend or coworker who can tell stories really well, give a great toast, or spark up a compelling conversation with almost anyone. According to language and communication coach Lucy Samuels of Lucy Samuels Co., those awesome conversationalists likely share these qualities:
“A good conversationalist is genuine in their care for others, a trait that becomes apparent in their tone of voice and body language. In a conversation, having empathy means being an observant listener who knows to change the topic or tone of a conversation when needed,” Samules shares.
Curious people tend to ask meaningful questions (and seek equally meaningful answers), which makes for great conversations. “Someone who is naturally curious will never run out of topics to discuss or learn about.”
Holding a conversation with someone who has a negative perspective can be a real downer, but positive people know how to drive any conversation in the right direction. In fact, Samuels has found that a positive demeanor “sparks positive conversations,” so by improving your outlook, you can also improve your conversation skills.
Samuels, who has helped people enhance their communication skills via online workshops and coworking sessions, cites confidence as another key trait that good conversationalists share. “Having confidence in yourself and what you’re speaking about decreases the chance of being dominated in a conversation. It’s true that you can’t exactly control interrupters or yellers, but you can definitely take a firm, confident stance that deters rude talkers.”
Essentially, learning how to carry a quality conversation can empower you to have stronger job interviews, network more efficiently, and skip the small talk to make more meaningful connections with people.
How to become a better conversationalist
If you naturally have the gift of gab, consider yourself lucky! But, if you’re like most people and want to develop your conversation skills, it all starts with listening. “Listen intently,” says Samuels, whose corporate work experience showed her just how much communication can impact one’s job opportunities. “That means listening for the sake of absorbing and not just waiting for your turn to speak or interrupting someone who’s still talking. Fully focus on the people with whom you’re having a conversation by getting rid of any distractions (your phone, perhaps) and use attentive body language like nodding or leaning in. Nonnative speakers may find it helpful to pay attention to others’ conversations, such as on TV shows or in movies, to get comfortable with conversations in their target language.”
When in doubt, refer to these hacks for becoming a better conversationalist. In addition to listening carefully, Samuels suggests the following:
1. Think before you speak
A common misconception about communication is that you must speak first in order to be heard, but Samuels says that is untrue. “Blurting out every thought that pops into your head makes you seem rude, offensive, and careless. Or, you could even end up sharing more than you intended. Take a moment to gather your thoughts and don’t worry about being the fastest talker. A good conversation isn’t a contest.”
2. Get feedback
Becoming a better conversationalist is as simple as focusing on the strongest speakers in your life. “Pay attention to what you like about the way they converse; not to copy them, but to extract some of their strengths and think about how you can reflect those in your own conversations. If you’re comfortable with the person, ask for feedback about your strengths and weaknesses as a conversationalist.” Use the feedback they provide to determine how your words are being perceived by others and what you need to improve.
3. Get out of your comfort zone
“If you’re not one who makes conversation easily, it can be daunting to strike up a conversation with random people. But if you’re feeling brave, give it a try when the stakes are low. For example, when you’re walking your dog or sitting in the back of an Uber, you can ask a friendly question and see where that takes you.”
4. Ask open-ended questions
“You can cut out a lot of awkward silences by avoiding overly simple questions with yes/no responses. So, instead of asking someone if they enjoyed an event, you could ask questions like how they felt about the event or what their favorite parts were. If you know who you’ll be talking to ahead of time, you can even do a little internet research to help identify some topics to ask about.”
5. Be prepared
“Practicing can make some conversations less awkward. For instance, if you’re heading to a networking event, you’ll probably want to make sure you can introduce yourself in an interesting but not overly rehearsed way, and that you have a couple of questions in mind to ask those you meet at the event.”
Use these hacks to navigate real-world conversations. Try getting feedback from a trusted coworker before your weekly team meeting or venture out of your comfort zone while catching up with friends. Be mindful of people’s boundaries and don’t encourage them to share more than they’re comfortable with.
Resources to sharpen your conversation skills
If you need more support in becoming a better conversationalist, consider resources aimed at helping people develop their language skills, which is a cornerstone of good conversation. “FluentU is a tool that helps language learners of various levels form authentic conversations in their target language.”
Samuels also suggests joining a local group that will enable you to strengthen your conversation skills. “Toastmasters is generally known for developing public speaking skills. Joining a local chapter can help you build overall confidence in your communication, and it offers networking opportunities. Meetup groups allow you to attend in-person and virtual events with people who have similar interests. Engaging in conversations about your favorite activities with people who are just as interested may make it a little easier to start conversations.”
If you prefer virtual meetups, visit websites like Eventbrite to find remote happy hours, paint nights, and speed networking events, all of which are prime opportunities to converse with people.
Examples of great conversation starters
An important part of being a good conversationalist is considering your audience; avoid potentially offensive or controversial issues, especially if you’re chatting up someone you just met. Instead, engage your listener with one of these topics:
Chatting with a coworker or professional peer:
What was the last funny meme you saw?
How would you describe your perfect weekend?
What’s the last show you binge-watched?
Where was the best place you’ve traveled?
How do you enjoy spending your free time?
Are you a “night owl” or an “early bird”?
Do you have a secret talent?
What was the highlight of your week?
Chatting with a potential employer, mentor, or professional reference:
What was the best team-building activity you’ve participated in?
What might your team members say they like about working here?
Can you recommend any great blogs or podcasts?
How would you describe the company culture?
What is the best piece of career advice you’ve ever received?
Do you all support any charitable causes? If so, which ones?
What do you like most about this industry?
Which do you like more: virtual meetings or in-person meetings?
About our source
Lucy Samuels is a communication coach and career storyteller at Lucy Samuels Co. She helps corporates and corporate misfits develop the communication confidence to share their professional stories so they can excel in their current work or land new opportunities.